This brave young team raised the hopes of 1966 with its spirit and cohesion. More than 26 million viewers in England watched the semifinal on ITV. The national dejection at the defeat is overwhelming.
The “Three Lions,” depicted on the crest of the England shirt, and their coach, Gareth Southgate, return home with justified pride. In Trippier, the goal-scoring wing back who has been a discovery of the tournament, and the central defenders — Kyle Walker, John Stones and Harry Maguire — England now have a solid foundation for the future.
By beating Colombia in a penalty shootout in the first knockout round, England laid to rest the demons of defeat in penalty shootouts in 1990 against West Germany (semifinal), 1998 against Argentina (last 16) and 2006 against Portugal (quarterfinal). That’s important psychologically. In the end, winning is about character. There’s no greater test of it than those unforgiving shootouts.
To beat Colombia that way was particularly important for Southgate, whose missed penalty in the Euro 96 semifinal against Germany condemned England to defeat. The miss has haunted the coach ever since — to the point, he confessed in Russia, that he could not listen to the “Three Lions” song, with its refrain of “Football’s coming home,” for two decades.
That anthem has been echoing around England again. The English are long-suffering when it comes to soccer, and so patient. My nephew, Jamie Walden, commented: “Football’s still coming home. Just going to take a bit longer than expected.”
All that’s needed now is a match-winning English midfielder of composure and vision, the difference between good average and glory. Such players — a Paul Pogba of France, a Modric — do not grow on trees. They are the providers of magic.
I confess that I do find one solace in this defeat. If England had won the World Cup, the jingoism from The Daily Mail and all the “Brexit” cohorts would have been intolerable. We’d all have had to listen to how the glory and character of England had been restored by Britain exiting the European Union.
So I salute Croatia and its midfield geniuses for more reasons than one.