Even After Croatia, The Three Lions March On

It’s been 52 years of hurt for England fans, and trust me, we kept count. It’s also been close to three decades since the majority of England fans last felt a sense of pride in their national team. Constant hurt and disappointment have accompanied England through every World Cup since their lone win in 1966, as well as their last Semi-Final run in 1990.

But then 2018 came around and as always, expectations were all over the place for the England team. Negativity swirled around the country like the wind and rain on a traditional British day, but once the tournament began, the negativity and rain seemed to disappear. Gareth Southgate’s men opened their campaign with a dramatic 2-1 win over Tunisia, their first win in the World Cup since 2010. Then came the biggest win in England’s World Cup history, a 6-1 thumping of Panama. Two games, two wins, and while the opposition was hardly impressive, it was a relief to see England actually doing what they were supposed to.

A 1-0 defeat to Belgium saw them finish 2nd in their group, but placed on the “easier” side of the tournament’s bracket. What soon followed for England fans was the planning of a route to the final. With no disrespect to the teams remaining, England were staring their best chance at a World Cup run in decades and the fans were beginning to believe.

After Colombia agonizingly equalized in the final seconds of the Round of 16 clash, the memories came flooding back into the minds of England supporters everywhere. Extra time loomed, and then the dreaded penalty shootout was waiting right around the corner, like an old high school bully. Nerves were at an all-time high, especially after Jordan Henderson was the first player to miss his penalty in the shootout, but a missed pen from Matheus Uribe and a strong save from Jordan Pickford gave Eric Dier the chance to make history. A calm penalty from the Spurs midfielder gave England their first ever penalty shootout win in World Cup history, banishing the pain of three consecutive shootout defeats. Now the fans believed.

A sturdy Sweden side vowed to cause trouble in the quarter finals, but England proved they were on a mission and swept them aside 2-0. The belief in England grew, it was their first Semi-Final since 1990 and only their third ever time reaching that stage.

On a personal note, I’m 21. Before this summer, I had never seen England in a Semi-Final ever, and like most of the country, I never thought that I would. Despite the eventual heartbreak of a 2-1 loss in extra time to Croatia, the spirit of the country grew stronger.

Football didn’t come home, much to the pleasure of the rest of the world. England’s run was easier than most, but most England sides would’ve still found a way to shoot themselves in the foot. No one expected England to reach the Semi-Final in Russia, but they did thanks to Gareth Southgate, an abundance of young talent, and overwhelming support from the fans. For the first time in ages, it seemed like almost everyone in England was on the same page. A wave of patriotism, belief and confidence, (and beer) swept the nation. Gareth Southgate has helped jumpstart a revolution in English football, reinstalling a country’s love for its national side. Whether you like England or not, and chances are you don’t, this summer was a success. After wasting golden generations of players after failing to develop effective youth structures, and after making England’s fans fall out of love with the Three Lions, things are finally heading towards a brighter future.

By: Harry Harris

Photo: AFP