Sports

Ghost busters: England laying demons to rest at World Cup

Gareth Southgate is certainly no Ebenezer Scrooge and this endless summer could not be further removed from the wintry backdrop of A Christmas Carol, but there is something of Charles Dickens redemptive tale about Englands voyage into the last four of the World Cup.

Just as Scrooge is transformed by visits from three ghosts, this England team has been forced to confront the spectres of previous traumatic episodes on the international stage in order to keep progressing at the current tournament in Russia.

In the last 16 it was the curse of the penalty shoot-out, which they banished with victory over Colombia. On Saturday in the quarter-finals it was Sweden, a bogey team who did for England and Graham Taylors public image at Euro 92 but were swatted aside in Samara with surprising ease.

Read more: World Cup win to boost business confidence as England edges closer to final

If they are to reach a first World Cup final since lifting the trophy in 1966 then they will have to face up to another painful memory: Croatia, who humiliated England and Steve McClaren by denying them a place at the European Championship one soggy night at Wembley in 2007.

It hasnt only been a redemptive process for the team either; the individuals who make it up have, to a man, overcome hardship of some form or another to even make it to Russia, where they are proving that they do indeed belong at the very top level.

In the 2-0 win over Sweden it was Harry Maguire and Jordan Pickford whose metamorphoses took centre stage.

Maguire, a player previously derided as cumbersome in some quarters, has been a surprise star of Englands first run to the semi-finals since 1990, gliding out of defence with the ball and terrorising opponents at set-pieces.

The centre-back dubbed "Slabhead" by team-mates used his sizeable skull to potent effect again, pummelling Ashley Youngs corner past goalkeeper Robin Olsen to give England a lead that they would not relinquish.

At the other end Pickford nipped any possible Swedish fightback in the bud with brilliant saves from Marcus Bergs header and Viktor Claessons low shot.

Like Maguire, Pickford only made his England debut less than a year ago and his place in the team was far from certain in the lead-up to the World Cup, but the 24-year-olds shoot-out save from Colombias Carlos Bacca made him a hero and against the Swedes he looked an impenetrable presence.

Goalkeeper Pickford has gone from strength to strength (Source: Getty)

There were other redemption sub-plots too: Jordan Henderson proved he can add creativity to his midfield industry in a confident performance peppered with defence-splitting passes, while Dele Alli allayed fitness doubts with an energetic display capped by a goal, his header from Jesse Lingards cross punched through the surrendering palms of Olsen.

And the rest of Englands squad is one story of triumph after another. Jesse Lingard and Kieran Trippier have taken the scenic route to the top of the game but have become essential members of Southgates team; Kyle Walker and John Stones have answered questions about their suitability and £50m price tags; Harry Kane has gone from loan spells at Leyton Orient and Millwall to the brink of the Golden Boot; the not-so-young Young has, at 32, reinvented himself as an assured and reliable left-back.

If there is any justice Raheem Sterling, who already has his own catalogue of hard-luck stories, will get the match-winning goals his last two performances have merited and quieten his more vindictive critics in the semi-final or – dare we now say it? – the final.

Southgate, meanwhile, has gone from a laughing stock for missing a decisive shoot-out penalty against Germany at Euro 96 and an underwhelming selection as England manager to national treasure, fashion icon and byword for all-round decency. He has even got to shake off his penalty stigma by leading the team to a first spot-kick win at a World Cup.

Every man in that England camp has had to prove themselves at this tournament. Maybe thats precisely why they appear to be the least entitled and most likeable, humble and refreshingly free of ego bunch to wear the Three Lions in a while.

Sweden v England: Quarter Final - 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia
Manager Southgate has enjoyed a transformative World Cup (Source: Getty)

All this good will, winning matches and tournament progress is adding up to a surreal experience for the England supporter.

If anything it felt too easy against Sweden. A side who had not conceded in three of their four World Cup games were run ragged at times and, but for some wayward finishing, could have lost by a less flattering margin.

Where was the gnawing anxiety we have come to expect from these occasions? If the Colombia tie was two torturous hours on a knife edge, this was unnervingly serene. Are we able to enjoy being in the semi-finals if we dont feel as though we have suffered?

England – the team, but also the country at large – is now facing up to the very real possibility that we could win the World Cup.

Croatia, who loom in Moscow on Wednesday evening, may be a ghost of failings past but are ranked lower, have never reached a final and endured a sapping penalty shoot-out win over Russia on Saturday night.

England will be expected to progress to a final against Belgium or France and take another step towards the ultimate redemption.

[contf] [contfnew]

CityAM

[contfnewc] [contfnewc]

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Sports

Ghost busters: England laying demons to rest at World Cup

Gareth Southgate is certainly no Ebenezer Scrooge and this endless summer could not be further removed from the wintry backdrop of A Christmas Carol, but there is something of Charles Dickens redemptive tale about Englands voyage into the last four of the World Cup.

Just as Scrooge is transformed by visits from three ghosts, this England team has been forced to confront the spectres of previous traumatic episodes on the international stage in order to keep progressing at the current tournament in Russia.

In the last 16 it was the curse of the penalty shoot-out, which they banished with victory over Colombia. On Saturday in the quarter-finals it was Sweden, a bogey team who did for England and Graham Taylors public image at Euro 92 but were swatted aside in Samara with surprising ease.

Read more: World Cup win to boost business confidence as England edges closer to final

If they are to reach a first World Cup final since lifting the trophy in 1966 then they will have to face up to another painful memory: Croatia, who humiliated England and Steve McClaren by denying them a place at the European Championship one soggy night at Wembley in 2007.

It hasnt only been a redemptive process for the team either; the individuals who make it up have, to a man, overcome hardship of some form or another to even make it to Russia, where they are proving that they do indeed belong at the very top level.

In the 2-0 win over Sweden it was Harry Maguire and Jordan Pickford whose metamorphoses took centre stage.

Maguire, a player previously derided as cumbersome in some quarters, has been a surprise star of Englands first run to the semi-finals since 1990, gliding out of defence with the ball and terrorising opponents at set-pieces.

The centre-back dubbed "Slabhead" by team-mates used his sizeable skull to potent effect again, pummelling Ashley Youngs corner past goalkeeper Robin Olsen to give England a lead that they would not relinquish.

At the other end Pickford nipped any possible Swedish fightback in the bud with brilliant saves from Marcus Bergs header and Viktor Claessons low shot.Read More »

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button
Close