England are being led by Gareth Southgate, and are on the brink of history. Here we look back to the last time we were in a semi-final. We also look ahead and dare to dream.
Can England Go All The Way?
The year is 1990 and the World Cup is being held in Italy. England have just defeated Cameroon to reach the semi-final of the biggest event in football. The whole of England had built up their hopes that, finally, another chance at the Jules Rimet trophy was in the grasp of the national team. After all, 1966 was a long time ago.
West Germany were the only team standing in the way.
A very tight first half had resulted in a stalemate and no goals. England made the best start, all over West Germany, who only got into the game just before the half-time whistle. The second half saw West Germany continue where they left off, unfortunately scoring too.
England, though, in a change to how they have been previously, got up and carried on. Just over ten minutes later a beautiful equaliser by Gary Lineker kept the lads in the match. After a very tense extra-time period, the inevitable happened. A penalty shootout with Germans. This was never going to end well, and so it proved. West Germany scored all five of their penalties, whilst England missed two (no, one wasn’t Gareth Southgate – that came later in Euro 96). That’s it, the dream over for another cycle and England finished fourth overall.
Roll on to 2018; a young, inexperienced team (in terms of the World Cup) has been selected by Gareth Southgate who is now the manager. Nothing much is expected, yet England fans get the flags out, watch the matches and wonder what will happen this time.
A fairly easy run in the group stages, finishing behind Belgium in the group to progress to the knockout stages. After reaching the quarter-finals, which equalled the best stage England had to go since 1990, a tight match against Sweden was forecast.
Sweden also held a better head to head than England, so were known as the Bogey team. England had no problems dispatching their European rivals with two glorious headers. The first time in the tournament England had kept a clean sheet. Fans were starting to dream again.
Nothing is guaranteed in football, but with the big teams of Germany, Argentina and Brazil all losing in the knockout stages the final four is interesting. Belgium and France will play for the first spot in the final. England will take on Croatia.
The young English team will be aware that they are making history, winning a penalty shootout for the first time in a World Cup, banishing the penalty hoo-doo that followed England ever since Euro 96 where Southgate famously missed his shot. Only four of the players were even born back in 1996. Harry Kane was only three. Many of the team were not around in 1990. Those fans who were alive and witnessed previous England performances are starting to dream again.
Dare to Dream?
With strains of ‘Three Lions’ ringing out (albeit, having to change the number of years!) round England belief is once again growing.
The big question is can the team go all the way? Will they beat Croatia to get to the final? If they do, can the beat France or Belgium to finally after 52 years lift that trophy again and earn the right to a second star.
One match at a time has been the mantra so far of the manager. Along with practising penalties, which previous managers never did. The tactics and the football have been refreshing, sometimes frustrating. This young England team are on the brink of making even more history – can they take the chance?