As a nation of good losers we have now surpassed ourselves.
The emotional outpouring of public adulation for waistcoat Gary and hot-shot Harry will have the rest of the world gazing with bewilderment upon our infinite capacity for celebrating defeat.
The response to being beaten by a country with a population one-third the size of that of London tells us more about ourselves than we may wish to know.
Gareth Southgate’s England has managed to unite people divided by a number of things
The lowering of our self-esteem in the half-century since England actually won the World Cup has come to the point where we can rejoice at finishing third or fourth in 2018.
Part of the reason is that our moderate football team did succeed in uniting a people divided by class, creed, colour, the shabby politics of self-interest, wealth and hardship, even north-south geography.
If only for a few short weeks of a sun-kissed summer.
Southgate’s England team have inspired us all during their World Cup campaign
Thank God we did not come second in two world wars. And at least the young gentlemen under Mr Southgate’s command bore some resemblance, albeit in a mere sporting dimension, to the valour which characterised their forefathers.
Whatever else, England could not be faulted for lack of effort on their expedition to Russia. Even though this was never likely to be enough to answer that anthem exhorting them to bring football home.
Whether that is enough to extol them as good old-fashioned heroes is another matter, one for calmer consideration in the colder light of a dawn littered with empty bottles and broken dreams.
England suffered heartbreak in the World Cup semi-finals, losing 2-1 on Wednesday night
The Football Association get by no means everything right but their initial decision to refrain from giving them a home-coming parade if they fell short against Croatia is the right one. It is to be hoped they do not bow to sentimental pressure and change their mind.
Such a charade would be an embarrassment. Not least to this willing group of players and their dignified manager. As Southgate said, they would not wish to return to ‘a nice reception without the trophy.’ As Piers Morgan said on his television breakfast of non-champions, we must stop teaching our kids that there are no losers in life.
Not that there is any disgrace in reaching the semi-final. Nor with riding their good fortune in the draw to get there. Far from it.
Southgate has done well but we do have strange tradition of celebrating defeat
The reality, however, is that a team not quite good enough to compare with football’s elite does not qualify for gut-reaction talk of ennoblement at Buckingham Palace.
There was no such fanciful notion when England reached the semi-final at Italia 90, yet they went down only on penalties to a West Germany way more sumptuous than Croatia.
And Bobby Robson’s team including Gazza, Lineker, Shilton, Beardsley, Pearce and captain Butcher was superior in most aspects to the one being three-lionised today.
Dispassionate analysis of this England will come to expose a critical failure of the midfield to create sufficient chances in open play. The near-total dependence on set-pieces and penalties has been blamed by Graeme Souness on Dele Ali and Jesse Lingard for glory-hunting instead of chance-making. But their associate Jordan Henderson, widely though he has been praised for his yeoman efforts, only opened doors in one match, when Sweden’s lumbering giants left him room to do so.
Jamie Vardy and Dele Alli on the pitch at the Luzhniki Stadium after England’s defeat
Close scrutiny of each game also points towards England being a one-half team. The first half.
The inter-changing movement which had been proclaimed as their strength was at its most fluent in the opening period of their opening match against Tunisia, even though they failed to take the chances which followed Kane’s early penalty to make the game safe.
In their second gimme against Panama, they scored all five goals before the interval. Come the last 16 they fell away after Kane’s 57th-minute penalty and allowed Colombia’s ragged desperados back into it.
Poor though Sweden were, they made more of a game of it after a similar time span following another Kane spot kick.
This was indeed the easy route. One paved by losing a reserve game to Belgium, cannily or not. Until Croatia brought the first real test of high skills and a readiness to use them by attacking England.
England did have an easy route to the semi-finals and it was paved by losing to Belgium
First half-itis delivered Kieran Trippier’s early free kick but for the most part thereafter Croatia assumed the ascendancy.
The concern about England fading is magnified by maestro Modric and his men having been put through extra-time and the anxiety of penalties in their two preceding matches. Add another additional 30 minutes in Moscow and that amounts to an extra match.
Yet it was the supposedly younger, stronger Englishmen who fell away so far that they wound up dead on their feet. On this evidence and that of the consummate football played in the opposite half of the draw it most unlikely they would have beaten France, Brazil, Belgium’s first team and probably not Uruguay.
England did over-achieve and much credit to them for surpassing the lowly expectations with which they entered the tournament. But in all honesty that does not resonate with all the heady trumpeting of a golden future.
Southgate does deserve to carry on and find out what more his young men may have to offer but his reality is that they do not look good enough ever to climb the football Everest scaled by Alf Ramsey’s formidable team in 1966.
Southgate and his England players console themselves following the final whistle in Moscow
Jamie Redknapp’s MailSport ratings of the goalkeeper as England’s best player give the game away. Jordan Pickford was the pick of the bunch but of the rest only Trippier, McGuire, Stones and Kane can properly be considered to have distinguished themselves.
Quite what Ali, Walker, Henderson, Lingaard, Young and Sterlling make of that is up to them – and perhaps their manager.
England’s most thrilling achievement this summer turns out to have been lifting the curse of penalties.
Unless Mbape of Griezmann run riot in Sunday’s final, or Lukaku against England on Losers’ Saturday, Kane will bring home the Golden Boot as top scorer, albeit with the help of three penalties and a deflection.
That prize would have been securely in his hands by now had the captain’s lieutenants fed him a decent ration of chances.
By the time they all land in Birmingham on Sunday afternoon we will be approaching the close of a weekend spent suffering while watching France play Croatia and a Wimbledon final bereft of our adopted favourite Mr Federer.
Roger and out.