Once again, England lost to a football superpower in a major tournament, but unlike previous defeats, Gareth Southgate and his team have lot to be proud of after challenging the defending champions France.
Although Southgate’s team has come close to realizing that dream, England hasn’t seen World Cup silverware in more than 50 years. The trophy won’t be returning home for at least another four years.
In Russia, a young England team that Southgate had inspired had defied the odds with a semifinal run that ended in heartbreaking extra time against the eventual runners-up Croatia.
The semifinals turned out to be a step too far, despite the fact that they arrived in Qatar with more confidence than they had four years before.
After reaching the European Championship final last year and losing on penalties, the team was expected to make another deep run at the World Cup in Qatar.
“We’re not here just to reach a quarterfinal,” Kane said before the France game. Yet that is where they fell to a formidable and experienced French side in a game of fine margins.
In a thrilling match with little separating the teams other than the final score of 2-1, Didier Deschamps’s clinical team triumphed despite England’s numerous opportunities to scare a nervous French defense.
“We’ve done such a good job that you have fewer regrets. My immediate feeling is that there are less things to reflect on that could have been done differently,” Southgate said.
With players like Bukayo Saka, Phil Foden, and Jude Bellingham, young players who have not yet reached their prime, illuminating the tournament, England’s future looks promising.
“I don’t think we looked out of place. There are so many good things they’ve done, so much to be excited about – like the age of the players,” Southgate said.
“We’ve once again shown the rest of the world that English football is healthy and we’ve got some players not only for now but for the future as well.”
In the Nations League this year, a six-match losing streak and five games without an open-play goal had suggested an early exit in Qatar.
Before the World Cup, there were calls for Southgate to resign, but the manager and the English FA remained composed.
“I suppose for all international managers, World Cups and European Championships are what you were always judged on in the past,” Southgate had said.
They started the competition with a 6-2 thumping of Iran before winning the group with a tournament-high nine goals, dispelling any doubts about their World Cup fitness.
With goals from all over the field, Senegal was mercilessly eliminated in the round of 16, and Kane used the occasion to explain why he had discovered how to taper his form in order to perform at his best in the playoffs.
But even though Kane tied Wayne Rooney’s record for most goals scored by an English player when he scored the equalizer against France with his 53rd goal, he missed the chance to break it when he missed his second penalty attempt.
“It is a result of 100 minutes of football and a lots of things that happened at both ends of the pitch. Even if that penalty was scored, we had a lot to do to win the game,” Southgate said.
“We’ve always stuck together as a team… We win or lose together, simple as that.”
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