Soccer

Gareth Southgate has earned another shot at England glory


As England left their training base today, they will no doubt still be dreaming of what could have happened after last night’s heartbreaking loss to France in the World Cup quarter-final at Al Bayt Stadium.

There will be talk for a long time about the penalty that could have been, the penalty that was missed and the decisions made by the referees. But England’s performance in Qatar breathed new life into Gareth Southgate’s future as national team manager.

About a month ago, dissenters suggested it should be the last hurray for Southgate, following abysmal form before the team left for Qatar. England went six games without a win before dismantling Iran in their World Cup opener.

Even that outburst from Iran did not stir the soul of those very people who had the English manager. As some said, it should be expected to rule unbridled over such a humble nation.

When England was pressed very hard by the US, the negative voices got a little louder.

On that occasion, it was not the lack of victory, but the manner of conduct that caused the consternation. It all seemed slow, too safe and there was a clear lack of penetration. The team selection was criticized and doubts were expressed about qualification prospects.

Although Wales only scored four goals in the last group game, the Three Lions would go home.

However, the game against the Welsh turned the script around as Southgate went with a more attacking line-up. England strolled past Wales, who were made to be just a shadow of their usual hard-working selves and it was Robert Page’s side that went home, not Southgate’s.

The conversation changed against Senegal

The way the Three Lions put Senegal to the sword in the round of 16 was terrifyingly good. Apart from one chance before England took the lead, the result was never in doubt.

Southgate’s side looked composed on the ball, well organized and focused on the game plan with a rather attacking starting line-up.

They lured their opponents in and slammed them with a sucker to get ahead, and then there was only one team in the game. Southgate clearly saw that as the way forward, and it was a complete contradiction to what many from England had seen. Those had been labeled slow, predictable, and far from the sum of their parts.

Against France, the line-up remained the same, but the only wrinkle in the game plan was the need to eliminate the threat of one of the world’s deadliest strikers, Kylian Mbappe.

Before kick-off, the striker had scored five of France’s goals and was the fulcrum for almost everything offensively.

Southgate had the right tactics

Kyle Walker had the experience to handle him and as the match progressed little was said about MbappĂ© and more about England’s attacking prowess.

It showed that Southgate was right, one of the world’s leading lights was not shining bright at all. They even took advantage of the spaces he left behind, despite the fact that Walker couldn’t help Bukayo Saka offensively.

Saka was great and made his way through the French defence, who resorted to aggression and a foul on him to stop him.

England were progressive in their game and in the second half in particular looked the most likely side to win.

They had a real dynamic, with the energy of Jude Bellingham and Jordan Henderson and Declan Rice collecting it all for the back four.

But when it comes to the best teams facing each other, matches are won and lost in the blink of an eye.

After a very good defensive performance from England, they lost sight of Olivier Giroud once and he goes home in typical style. Then the usually always reliable Harry Kane shoots a penalty over the top. Nice margins indeed.

While the record books will forever read, England 1 France 2. Anyone who has had the pleasure of watching the game will say it should have been the Three Lions against Morocco in the semi-final and not France.

England deserved to move on, and it is courtesy of Gareth Southgate. With the European Championships approaching in 18 months, it gives him another victory with this extremely talented and exciting side from England.

Photo credit: IMAGO/Xinhua

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