England’s performance in the World Cup has been a story of re-emergence.
As the match proceeded towards extra time after Colombia scored a dramatic equaliser in injury time, England looked haunted. A ghost of England’s past seemed to follow their players everywhere on the pitch. There was unease in the air among the English supporters.
“It’s going to penalties. Why is it going to penalties? Please..”
But when it did, a new-age England, led by 24-year old Harry Kane, banished the curse in style. ‘The Three Lions’ roared towards their first-ever World Cup penalty shootout victory, and only their second at a major tournament. It was almost as if English football woke up to the dawn again, envisioning innumerable possibilities.
Something new had happened. And everyone is properly chuffed.
The story of Three Lions is a story of underutilized potential. England has been home to a throng of world class players ever since the turn of the century. Yet, the English side never had the flair which could evince the quality of their squads. In their last two major tournaments, England were knocked out of group stages and round-of-16 (against Iceland) respectively.
But when Gareth Southgate, the English manager (who was appointed after a series of controversy with Roy Hodgson’s original replacement, Sam Allardyce) announced his 23-member World Cup squad, a country hoped. It hoped, because England had finally refused to bow to reputations. Southgate relied on players who proved their mettle in the English domestic season.
England had already exceeded expectations without kicking a ball in the World Cup.
English football teams, ever since the turn of the century, have operated on hand-brakes. Mistakes were made, and mistakes were repeated.
In 2018, England has finally moved towards rectification.
The World Cup campaign has already been a remarkable one for England. They eased through the group stages this time, which had been a doubt for every English team in the past, in the build-up to the tournament. Albeit a second-placed finish due to a defeat against Belgium, England impressed their supporters with dominating performances on the field.
The match against Colombia brought with it a lot of pressure for the English players. The South American side might have been without their star player James Rodriguez, but still boasted of quality.
England refused to sit back. And it made all the difference.
For 80 minutes, English players attacked, were fouled, stood up and attacked again. For the rest ten minutes, Colombians finally realised that a win is needed to proceed to the next round. But England’s terrific comeback after Yerry Mina’s 93rd minute equaliser is a story which pertains to the much-celebrated story of English football.
“1966. A July evening. West Germany. World Cup final.”
Jordan Pickford was the hero of the match for England, as a superhuman effort from the goalkeeper, minutes before the final whistle to save Mateus Uribe’s absolute bullet saved England’s flight back home. Jordan Pickford was also the hero for one other Jordan, who missed the penalty in the shoot-out: the only one to miss from England, Jordan Henderson.
An Evertonian saving his Merseyside rival. Quite an England thing to do, that.
The Three-Lions will face Sweden in the quarterfinal of the World Cup. The last time they reached this stage, they bowed out on penalties to Portugal in 2006.
Sweden takes pride in their defensive strength, and the retirement of Zlatan Ibrahimovic has provided the side with a more stabilised structure. It is not because Zlatan did what Zlatan does apart from football, but what he normally does on the field.
With the presence of a world-class striker, Sweden often threw away games committing men to attack. Their squad now is seemingly limited in terms of technical abilities, and therefore a lot more structuralised where every player knows his job well.
Sweden lacks the firepower of Zlatan, which is natural. But they are equally strong in their defence. The European side has kept three clean sheets so far in their four World Cup games, which signifies that England’s attack needs to be a lot more penetrating than it is now.
After the shootout was over, Gareth Southgate led his English players, as they came out to wave at their families and the supporters. It was all quiet and calm, and happy faces singing songs of glory. But it hardly is, because England now enters the stage where anything can happen.