After a wait of 28 long years, England football team is finally going to play a FIFA World Cup semi-final match. This time, they are drawn with a stoic Croatia which is as stubborn and unyielding a team can get. It is going to be a tricky fixture for Gareth Southgate’s and since nobody is favourites in the anticipated clash, anything can happen in the coming couple of hours.
Be it a resounding victory or a shambolic loss written in England’s fate, it won’t matter because Southgate’s men have done what no English team has been able to do in past three decades – win the hearts of fans back home.
The World Cup-winning side of 1966 is a distant memory now because what football fans across the world remember England as is a self-destructive team that never makes it to the final stages of any big tournaments. The fans are not entirely wrong in their assessment as England team has been notorious to fall short on expectations.
Back in the late 80s and early 90s when legendary Alan Shearer led the mantle of the Three Lions, the league playing nation used to be a dominant force but the inception of Premier League in 1992 did something to the national team.
The cash-rich league indeed helped in keeping the home-grown talent in the country but the growing fierce rivalries between the clubs made the players distant from each other.
Passing its infancy in the 90s, when Premier League actually blossomed by the turn of the century, there were stark contrasts among the English footballers playing for different clubs with different club philosophies.
Take the case of Rio Ferdinand and John Terry, Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard, or Michael Owen and Wayne Rooney. They were absolute world-class players of their time but when they came together to play for England, they formed the most ineffective teams of all time.
Much of the blame for that inefficacy can be laid on the fiery rivalries among them, big egos and unwillingness to really play as a unit as they focused more on the individual display of talent.
But all that has changed now. While selecting the team for FIFA World Cup in Russia, Gareth Southgate sidelined much of the ageing players and called up a young and dynamic group of players.
The situation is still the same at the club level but on the personal front, there is a radical change in will and desire. The English team in Russia has displayed resolute characteristics and their willingness to work as a collective and cohesive unit has got them to the semi-final stage of the football extravaganza.
There is a sea of pictures doing rounds on the internet where a profound bonhomie between the players can be witnessed. Whether the credit should go to Gareth Southgate or the players themselves, who knows but one thing is for sure, the Russia World Cup will definitely go down to an exciting end.
Again, it doesn’t matter if the World Cup comes home or not, England team will be coming home to roaring welcome from fans and with their heads held high.