Southgate Keeps The Nation Roaring Loud

November 19, 2018

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Not all heroes wear capes. Some wear waistcoats.

Okay, so the famous suit garment that frequently appeared at the World Cup wasn’t technically on show yesterday, but the same belief and desire of the team was. In a game where England had to win, Gareth Southgate’s young side showed that they do have a gritty edge to their game afetr coming back from one goal behind to beat Croatia 2-1 and to progress to the UEFA Nations League semi-finals.

It was certainly a fixture where old foes did battle once more, as England and Croatia went head to head for the second time since the July World Cup semi-finals, and although complete redemption was not fulfilled, the victory got the whole nation roaring once again.

When Ante Rebic’s deflected shot looped over Jordan Pickford in the 56th minute, the scenes of Croatian celebration brought back torrid flashbacks, as it looked as though Zlatko Dalic’s men were going to break English hearts once again.

However, history was not destined to repeat itself, as two goals in quick succession from Jesse Lingard and Harry Kane cemented England a top spot finish in Group 4, with Croatia being relegated as a result.

Despite going behind, the game could have been wrapped up in the first half for the Three Lions, with Marcus Rashford, Raheem Sterling and Kane all squandering golden opportunities to put their team ahead.

The result was certainly the finest that the new Wembley had witnessed since its 2007 opening. Now, with the UEFA Nations League semi-final seven months away, Southgate can slowly begin putting in the preparations for the already highly-anticipated occasion.

No World Cup Hangover

Unlike most of the English fans, the national team look to be experiencing no hangover effects from the World Cup, where they exceeded expectations so emphatically. Instead, they have defied all the odds and claimed the top spot in a group where many predicted them to finish bottom. After stunning Spain in Seville and now Croatia in London, are England now one of the most feared opponents in Europe?

Whilst the acclaimed giants of Italy, Germany and Spain continue to falter, it appears to only be onwards and upwards for Southgate’s dynamic side, who continue to go from strength to strength. During the summer, England looked fearless, brave on the ball and would enter the field with a swagger of confidence unrecognisable to the modern-day fan. All these traits continue to grow with every game that passes.

Instead of stagnation or decline, England continue to build on past performances and learn from past mistakes, whilst also improving on their linkup play in the final third. The current squad are certainly all familiar with one another, as through a relatively consistent selection of players, there is a real awe of vibrancy amongst this modern squad. Whether it be through social media snaps in training or smooth passages of play on the field, the close relationships between each player have spurred fans at home to rekindle their love for the national team.

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Southgate The Saviour

At the head of this squad harmony and efficient England setup lies Southgate, a man who stands on the touchline like a proud father, watching his exciting project unfold beyond his eyes. Unlike his predecessors, the Englishman has implanted a successful and long-term system into the side, being brave enough to select players based on form and not merit, players that fit his plan and not simply always the individual with the most talent.

Through remaining committed to an expansive style of play, Southgate’s players have gelled together well on the field, where an understanding and trusting chemistry is now in full flow. Whether it be in the orthodox 4-3-3 or even the 3-5-2 setup, the English defenders are encouraged to pass out from the back, with a heavy emphasis also placed on Pickford’s distributional duties. With two wide wingbacks, there is plenty of space in the middle of the park for the likes of Marcus Rashford, Sterling and Dele Alli to operate in, with the talisman in Kane leading the front in prolific fashion.

In comparison to the supposed ‘golden generation’ of 2004, it can be argued that player for player, this current England side does not come close to talent boasted in Sven-Goran Eriksson’s squad. And yet, Southgate has got his team playing some of the best football this country has ever witnessed. After years of disappointment and a lack of experimenting, the innovative approach adopted by Southgate has been a breath of fresh air for England fans, who are now right behind the man in the waistcoat. A man we are proud to call our manager.

It’s Coming Home Vol.2

Those three magic words. ‘It’s coming home’ was bellowed from the rooftops during the summer and expect the chant to be making a return soon. The Nations League semi-final may not be until June 2019, but England fans up and down the country will already be ticking off the days until the tournament recommences in Portugal – will a trophy finally be heading to the home of football?

Joining England on their travels will be Switzerland, Portugal and either France or the Netherlands. Each of the mentioned nations all holds their own individual threats, but nobody will strike fear into the hearts of the courageous young lions. As a competition that has replaced the mundane international friendlies, the Nations League can be considered a success, as it has given teams an incentive to play. It may not hold the same reputation as a World Cup medal or a Euro’s title, but a trophy is a trophy.

With plenty of time from now until June, a lot can still happen. Injuries and form will certainly be playing heavily on Southgate’s mind during this period. However, barring any crises, England are on course to continue their progression and will remain confident during any pre-tournament friendlies that come their way. Congratulations to Gareth, who has restored the faith and belief of a nation to get behind a football team that has crushed hearts on so many occasions in the past.

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Author: Joshua

As an experienced sports writer, Josh has been published across various different platforms, writing about his beloved club Manchester United and other footballing topics. He also covers a range of other sports, specialising in UFC and Formula One.

Twitter @JoshGI97

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