Content Editor at Free Super Tips, Alex was born in the shadow of Old Trafford and is an avid Man Utd fan. After graduating from university he combined his love of football, writing and betting to join FST and now closely follows goings-on in all of the top European leagues.
The 2018 World Cup marked the unofficial end of England’s ‘Golden Generation’. Heaps of pressure have been piled on the likes of Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, and Wayne Rooney for over a decade, and before that players such as David Beckham, Paul Scholes, Ashley Cole, Michael Owen, Rio Ferdinand took the spotlight.
These high profile players have brought rays of false hope down on the nation every two years for the better part of 20 years. Flags were flown from car windows and every other man was adorned with a full England kit, but every single time it ended in abject failure. It became predictable to the extent of ridiculous – England would muddle their way through the group stages and then fall in either the last 16 or the quarter finals, usually with a generous sprinkling of controversy scattered over their exit. The 2014 instalment didn’t even give us that much though as the Three Lions crashed out in the group stages.
Wayne Rooney’s retirement in August 2017 brought the curtain down on England’s last remaining Golden Generation player, but Gareth Southgate didn’t dwell on this apparent lack of top class talent. Instead, he set about building an actual team of players rather than a collection of individuals. Just five players remain from that 2014 World Cup squad, and only two of those are regular starters.
England’s talisman and captain, Harry Kane, hadn’t even burst onto the Premier League scene when England floundered in Brazil, but now he finds the hopes of a nation resting on his shoulders.
The Mood in England Before the World Cup
Every World Cup I can remember has been characterised by a national frenzy. Flags were adorning every surface imaginable and the media were in overdrive as they claimed that this would be England’s year.
That didn’t happen for this World Cup though. After the abject misery inflicted by Iceland in Euro 2016 there has been a distinct lack of hope in England’s chances. Just a fraction of the outward displays of support were on show in the build up to England’s opener against Tunisia, and rarely was there a claim that England could be anything other than also-rans.
The hesitation to show genuine hope is understandable, of course. It’s now been 52 years since England last tasted success, and over 20 years since Baddiel, Skinner, and The Lightning Seeds penned that iconic song for Euro ’96. Those years of hurt haven’t ceased, and with a squad that is weaker on paper and a less than impressive qualifying campaign it was actually a relief to see England’s chances underhyped rather than wildly overhyped.
England 2 – 1 Tunisia: A Turning Point?
England fans had to watch a lot of football before the Three Lions finally kicked their campaign off on Monday evening, but even before kick off some seeds of optimism were starting to grow. France had only managed an unconvincing win over Australia in their opener, and heavyweights such as Argentina, Brazil, Spain, and Germany had all failed to win their openers.
Those seeds grew larger as Harry Kane poked in from close range just 11 minutes into their opener against Tunisia. It was an unfamiliar and energetic style of play from Southgate’s men as they pressed Tunisia into making mistakes from the first whistle. Heads unsurprisingly started to drop when a penalty brought Tunisia back into the game, and flashes of injustice when Kane was twice denied a clear penalty despite the presence of VAR.
The tempo dropped in the second half, but England kept pressing and the impact of Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Marcus Rashford off the bench drove the team into a more intense style of play again. It paid off eventually, with that man Harry Kane netting his second of the tournament late on, flicking a header goalwards from a corner.
England never gave up in that match, and their persistence was rewarded in the end. The first half was exceptional apart from the below par finishing, and while it was hard to get too worked up about a late winner against Tunisia it was also hard not to feel a little excited. The rest of the big nations had struggled massively, but unlike most of them England had actually managed to make their dominance count.
Like a national barometer of hope, a few more flags started to fly the next day.
Read More: Was Southgate Right to Snub Wilshere?
England 6 – 1 Panama: Could Football Come Home?
World Cup debutants Panama had given Belgium a really tough time in their opener, and the 3-0 scoreline didn’t entirely reflect how difficult it was for Roberto Martinez’ side to get going. It took them 47 minutes to find the opener, and with them following that with a 5-2 demolition of a Tunisia side that England struggled against many were expecting another close match in Novgorod.
How wrong they were. John Stones put England ahead with a powering header inside ten minutes, and that’s when the young squad decided to go for the jugular. The first half was a whirlwind of goals after that, with Kane making it three for the competition from the penalty spot before a stunning striker from Jesse Lingard made it 3-0. Stones bagged another from an extremely well worked free kick routine, and then Kane equalled his tally from yet another penalty.
The second half was less emphatic, but after such an absurd first half it was never likely to live up to the billing. Captain Kane completed his hat trick when he deflected a shot off his heel and into the Panama net. Felipe Baloy added a slight tinge of sourness 12 minutes from time with a consolation goal, but overall it was a performance that caught the imagination and dreams of a nation of football fans who have waited for what seems like an eternity for something to cheer about.
⚪ a bird
⚪ a plane
🔘 COMING HOME ITS COMING HOME ITS COMING, FOOTBALLS COMING HOME! pic.twitter.com/HmIvE9aLui
— Jake Spooner (@Jakespooner97) June 24, 2018
Belgium 1-0 England: Momentum lost or genius move by Southgate?
Both sides entered the final group game with the luxury of already being through and just the matter of which side of the draw each team would go into to decide. Both sides took the option to rest players with Gareth Southgate resting 8 players and Roberto Martinez resting 9.
It was a game which in truth offered very little in terms of quality or entertainment, with the game having very much a friendly atmosphere. The only bit of quality was the Belgium goal, ex Manchester United and Sunderland player Adnan Januzaj produced a moment of brilliance as he whipped a ball past Pickford. The English goalkeeper came under criticism for his choice to use his left hand instead of his right in attempting to save the shot.
What Next for England?
The result on paper was good for England, they entered the bottom half of the draw which is arguably the easier with just Spain as the “big” European outfit. Spain then went on to succumb to a penalty shoot-out defeat to Russia as the hosts were excellent all evening in protecting their goal and keeping the Spaniards out.
With no “big” European team left in the bottom half, can England take full advantage and progress past Colombia and onto Sweden or Switzerland for a place in the Semi Finals?
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