England Stay Calm and Resilient to Create History

Posted on July 11, 2024

When Germany thumped Scotland 5-1, amidst all the euphoria and the “Germany will take some beating” hype, a few people dared to whisper that it’s how teams finish a tournament, not how they start it, that counts.

It’s true as well. It always has been. Over the years, anyone who has watched football will have seen teams start strong before running out of steam. Brazil were specialists at it, notably in 1982 when they were regarded as champions-elect. Italy started that tournament poorly, ignited, and walked away with the trophy. Germany went out of their home tournament last week.

Historical Examples

In 2022, Argentina lost, yes lost, to Saudi Arabia and were crowned champions. France stuttered through the early stages in 1998 before delivering a raucous battering of Brazil in Paris. How many times have we called Germany lucky? Why have England always been unlucky? Why is that? Surely you can’t keep being unlucky?

Because with belief and resilience, the luck comes your way. Or is it luck? The three late goals by Bellingham, Saka, and Watkins have all been world-class. Nothing lucky about them. They have all arrived late as England kept going, kept believing. The harder you work, the luckier you get. It’s weird but almost always true. That is a huge asset that will worry Spain. They might have looked better than England in this tournament, but they will worry about just how to kill them off.

Passion and Desire

Throughout this tournament, I have questioned armchair managers who have claimed that England lack passion and desire. There are still those who think players should chest pump, hurtle into tackles, wallop it up there, and fight for scraps. If England did that, they’d be out of the tournament. Desire is about keeping your head whilst those around you lose theirs. When have you seen England panic? Not once. I can’t get my head around supporters who want to revert back to a dead horse that has been flogged into oblivion since 1966. It must be some sort of footballing version of ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ combined with delusional nostalgia.

Match Analysis

First Half

Onto the game itself. I’ll be brief as I have waffled on too much already. England started positively and looked to have a spring in their step courtesy of at last playing a team who wanted a pop at them. Then, Rice was robbed by the impressive Xavi Simons who blasted past the helpless Pickford from 25 yards. 1-0 after 9 minutes as the camera panned to Trippier, who was telling everyone to chill out and not panic. I liked that, it calmed me down as well. I don’t know why, it just did.

England responded well, dominating the midfield and creating a series of slick moves resulting in several half chances. On 18 minutes, one such chance fell to Kane, who drove it hard but over, under pressure from the incoming boot of Dumfries. After the ball had gone, Dumfries connected with Kane, who took a boot to the foot. Nothing appeared untoward until the referee was advised to head to the monitor. We know what that means. Penalty. A bizarre decision, but it happens sometimes, and Kane gorged on his fortune to put England level. Justice for Rotterdam 1993? It was for me and millions of others my age. I am relieved to discover it is not just me who carried a 31 year grudge against Koeman. Fuck him.

The Dutch were rattled, England dominant. Foden wriggled through an obstacle course only to be denied by a goal-line clearance and then whipped in a stunning curling shot that clipped the post. At the other end, Dumfries rattled the bar, warning England that the Dutch were still in it despite struggling to get any kind of foothold in the game as Foden fizzed around the park like he does at Manchester City. What a wonderful player that lad is.

Second Half

As half-time approached, England were swarming all over the Dutch but couldn’t get the killer touch we were all all desperate for (Well, not the Dutch obviously). Consequently, Koeman, a fine tactician, made his midfield more robust, and the one-way traffic came to a second-half standstill, with the match evening out. Would England regret not killing the Dutch when dominating?

They nearly did when Van Dijk was denied by a strong save by Pickford in a second half of few chances. The Dutch were more dominant with the ball at this stage, but England remained a threat and thought they’d won it when Saka was correctly denied by the offside flag. Walker timed his run a second too soon. The fine margins are brutal.

Then a fantastic late Dutch move from back to front twisted England inside out, but Guehi, despite slipping, blocked Weghorst for what would have been a fatal blow and quite possibly the goal of the tournament. It was wonderful passing football denied by defending of the highest calibre. Beads of sweat ran down my forehead and my temples throbbed. Football shouldn’t cause headaches, it really shouldn’t.

The Turning Point

England fans breathed a huge sigh of relief at this escape. All around the stadium there were puffed cheeks. Breathe out lads, breathe out. Extra time beckoned. Then a tired buildup and slightly miscued pass found Palmer on the right. Palmer released Watkins, who was ushered away before turning and shooting from the tightest of angles. Worth a go? You bet it was. He caught it clean as a whistle and the ball fizzed past the keeper. Time stood still, Then…elation!

It was a good job Watkins was in an enclosed stadium, or he would still be running now. We all know how much footballers get paid. Millions and millions of pounds to perform at the elite level week in and week out. But Watkins’s face showed the sheer beauty of it all and that it’s not all about mansions and big cars. The high of hitting the ball so sweetly and seeing it fly into the net in the last minute of a semi-final was a joy to watch. Watkins face was an absolute picture. He seems such a nice bloke and I was so happy for him, nearly as happy as I was for myself. I kissed the TV screen. I am 56 for God’s sake, I need to grow up, and fast.

A New Era for England

The whistle blew, and it was absolute euphoria. In 2016, I watched England lose to Iceland in The Euros. At that point, I never thought I’d watch England play football again. At nearly 50, I thought that part of my life was over for good. When Sam Allardyce took over from the honest but hapless Roy Hodgson, I didn’t even watch his only game in charge. England had gone full Mike Bassett and I wanted nothing to do with it.

Allardyce got done in a tabloid sting, and Southgate got the job by default. It felt a bit safe. Then, in 2018, a different England began to emerge. Young wealthy men behaving professionally with dignity and calmness. The tedious, dressed as St George, chest-beating, caged tigers, up-and-at-‘em disasters of the past were eased out of the equation. The blame game, sendings-off, and hard luck stories faded into tragic memories of 1990, 1996, 1998, and 2006. It was no longer the days when it was everyone else’s fault when England lost in a sea of red mist and the same coloured cards.

Southgate’s Impact

Like any manager trying to piece together a fluid side out of a multitude of successful club players, Southgate has had his problems and made mistakes. However, what can’t be denied by anyone is that he has brought stability, calmness, belief, and resilience to the England team. Not one team has won a trophy on flair alone and Southgate has worked that out. ‘World Beaters’ Brazil tried it in 1982 when they turned up in Spain like the Harlem Globetrotters, and no one has dared try it since. Who wants a metaphorical custard pie in the face?

Germany have won countless trophies through resilience, steely determination, and plenty of flair to back it up. We called them lucky and ourselves hard done by. Germany played air violin and told us to cry a river. England have been widely criticized in this tournament by armchair managers longing for something wonderful that never existed. Yet here England are, in the final courtesy of three of the finest goals in the competition from Bellingham, Saka and now Watkins. Is that a coincidence? Is that luck? Don’t be silly. A game lasts 90 minutes plus added time. If you score within that allocated time, it counts. If you score towards the end of the allocated time, it’s often a killer blow.

Facing Spain

Spain will be a daunting prospect. However, such is the belief in this group of players that England now know that with resilience, belief, and that vital killer blow, facing them is a daunting task. Perhaps more importantly, Spain know that as well. They will be thinking, “Just how do you see England off?” They will run England ragged at times but England are big, strong and well-organised. The Dutch are a huge side and we saw them off tactically and physically.

By Christ it will be hard to keep the Spanish at bay but being underdogs will suit England just fine.

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