Gareth Southgate believes England’s remarkable run to the World Cup semi-finals has not only showcased homegrown talent but struck a blow for the country’s coaches.
Heartache and frustration was intertwined with pride after Wednesday’s galling 2-1 extra-time loss to Croatia denied them a place in the Luzhniki Stadium showpiece finale.
Football will not be coming home but England will return as heroes, having restored pride, reconnected with fans and pointed towards a brighter future during a summer that will live long in the memory.
Southgate’s disappointment at missing the final is clear but there is understandable confidence about the future given the improving health of the national game and inspiration this run provide.
“We felt it was the chance to showcase what young English players can do,” the England manager said.
“And, also, we hoped that we could strike a blow for English coaches as well because it’s not always been possible for English coaches to have this job.
“That’s why it is an honour to do it and to play in a way and get to a stage of a tournament that will hopefully inspire young coaches as well.
“I know the messages I have had from back home has helped them see what’s possible.”
It will take time to accurately reflect on England’s “incredible experience” in terms of progress, individual performances and collective success, but their style as much as substance brings hope.
Southgate certainly has the nation’s backing and provides a firm platform on which to build, unlike the teams of World Cup 1990 and Euro 96 when semi-final runs were followed by the exits of popular managers Sir Bobby Robson and Terry Venables.
“Of course, we have one of two paths to go,” Southgate said.
“This is either a moment of rare hope and we sink bank or we build in the way that Germany did in 2010.
“We want to be in semi-finals, finals and we’ve shown to ourselves that can happen.
“The team and the individuals will be better in a couple of years’ time.
“Some of these big matches, you just have to go through them and live them to know how to react in the right moments in the right way.
“There was just a period in the second half and it looked like we had the lead and don’t want to give it away rather than we keep playing and we just lost a bit of composure in that period and Croatia’s experience really told.
“But we’ve learned from all of the things over the last couple of years and that’s a cruel lesson, but, blimey, we’ve come through so many important ones and I’m really, really very proud of what they’ve done.”
Southgate now faces the challenge of getting his devastated players refocused and recovered in time for Saturday’s third-place play-off against Belgium.
The England manager admits it is not a game that any team wants to play in, but changes will be as much down to the short turnaround and tournament exertions than anything else.
“I think a physical part of that is going to have a huge bearing,” Southgate said.
“We only have a two-day recovery and I’m sure some of the guys won’t be able to get out there.
“I’d be really surprised if (Kieran) Trippier is out there. (Ashley) Young, too, so we will have to make changes and so what’s right. But we’ll assess them before picking a team.
“It’s the chance to have our second-best ever finish and the chance for the players to get a medal.
“So, there’s that and there’s the pride in playing for your country again. So, we’ll try and get the team that is best able to do the job.”
Captain Harry Kane will be among the more interesting selection decisions, given the sharpshooter is gunning for the Golden Boot.
“I don’t know (if he wants to play),” England boss Southgate said of a striker currently leading the scoring charts with six goals.
“We will see how he is. He’s got another 120 (minutes) and I don’t know the full injury update.
“Trippier is the obvious one because he’s had to come off during the game and (Jordan) Henderson is also feeling his hamstring so we will just have to assess it.”
- Press Association