Jules Rimet’s still gleaming. 52 years of hurt will become 56 by the time the next World Cup rolls around. Football, after all that, isn’t coming home. England’s semi final defeat to Croatia has left a scar across a nation which had started to believe. And yet, a peculiar air of optimism remains across England.
Gareth Southgate’s side were ever meant to get as far as the semi finals. Indeed, many had merely set a target of escaping the group, never mind making a run to the tournament’s final four. But by failing to beat Croatia on Wednesday, England spurned the chance of a lifetime. The cards might never fall so favourably for them again.
For once, Germany knows how England feels. Back in 2006, they too made an unexpected run to the semi finals of the World Cup. Led by the charismatic, their young and inexperienced side caught the imagination of a nation in sweeping their way to the final four. Just like England, they too were made to rue missed opportunities, eventually exiting in extra time.
This is where England can learn a lesson. Rather than treating that unexpected success, Germany used their 2006 World Cup success to establish a platform. From there, Die Mannschaft made the final of the European Championships two years later and the semi finals once again at the 2010 World Cup.
Germany are considered among the most consistent teams in international football, but there was a point at which their national game appeared to be at a crossroads. The process culminated with them winning their fourth World Cup in 2014, but 2006 was when the first green shoots of life started to poke through the ground.
On the whole, the English game is in a good place at the moment. They are world champions in two different age groups, European champions in another and have won the prestigious Toulon tournament for the past three years on the spin. There is reason to be positive about the future.
But England must now preserve those green shoots of life rather than stamp all over them. The team that plays in the 2022 World Cup will be very different to the one that made the semi finals of this tournament. Four years is a long time in football. Full team units don’t tend to span that length of time in the international game, particularly when club football and outside factors determine so much.
Nonetheless, this World Cup sets a precedent for English football. Their success in making the semi finals doesn’t necessarily mean more success will follow – look at how the 1990 semi final run was followed up by the failure to make the 1994 World Cup – but it has put the national team back in the public focus.
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