It’s been a rollercoaster journey for the England squad, and now they are returning to home soil after being defeated by Croatia in the semi-finals.
They may not be bringing football back with them this time, but they can certainly hold their heads high; knowing they have changed the image of English football for the foreseeable future.
England went 1-0 up in the first half thanks to Kieran Trippier’s superb free kick, although Ivan Perišić equalised for Croatia in the second half.
Unfortunately for the Three Lions Croatia took the lead in the second half of extra time, making it 2-1 and knocking England out of the tournament.
Captain Harry Kane and his band of heroes have shown English football is nothing to joke about, giving enjoyable, skilful performances which will motivate youngsters in playing fields throughout the country.
Meanwhile, Gareth Southgate has shown the sort of dignified, fair-minded leadership England fans have been longing for; in a poignant story of patience and redemption.
In the midst of a glorious heatwave, the excitement was palpable as England progressed through the group stage, advance from the last 16 for the first time in 12 years and reach their first semi-final since that night in Turin at Italia 90.
Before every match, there was world-weary cynicism as people shook their heads as the prospect of the lads getting further; continually bracing themselves for the inevitable disappointment.
And yet their eyes would light up again and again as we rocketed through the group stages, the quarter-finals, before reaching our third ever World Cup semi-final.
And with each game, we were given fresh moments to be proud of. Who could forget Harry Kane’s hat-trick against Panama? Or the moment Gareth Southgate put both his and his nation’s penalty shootout demons to rest with England’s first ever spot-kick victory in a World Cup and then console a disappointed Columbian player?
It was a summer where we felt anything could happen. We sang Three Lions in the pubs and in the streets, giddy with warm beer and hope.
And roars of joy could be heard on every corner as Harry Kane landed goal after goal, rising to become the top scorer in the competition with six beautifully executed goals.
Stars were born before our eyes. After what has felt like an eternity we were treated to a team capable of wearing the national shirt with pride not overburden by expectation or false hope.
In the words of Gareth Southgate after the Columbia match:
We’ve spoken to the players about writing their own stories,
Tonight, they showed they don’t have to conform to what’s gone before. They have created their own history.
We always have to believe in what is possible in life and not be hindered by history or expectations.
Not only did we play well, but we played clean; refusing to be dragged into the dirty tactics from certain other teams we could mention.
Indeed, the England squad only picked up five yellow cards and there wasn’t a red card in sight.
This true sportsmanship was due in part to the respectful nature of Southgate, who directed his players to be particularly vigilant following the introduction of VAR technology.
The England squad fly home national heroes, inspiring a new generation while reacquainting the older, jaded generation with the pride which comes with having a national team you can believe in.
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