AL KHOR (Qatar), Dec 11 — England came up short against a football superpower in a major tournament once again but unlike previous eliminations, Gareth Southgate and his squad can take plenty of encouragement after going toe to toe with reigning champions France.
England have not had a whiff of World Cup silverware in over half a century and though Southgate’s team have come close to realising that dream, the trophy will not be coming home for at least another four years.
A young England side revitalised by Southgate had defied the odds in Russia with a semi-final run that ended in extra-time heartbreak against eventual runners-up Croatia.
Despite arriving in Qatar with more belief than they did four years ago, however, the semi-finals proved to be a step too far.
For a squad now rich in tournament experience, the World Cup in Qatar was supposed to be another deep run after reaching last year’s European Championship final which they lost on penalties.
“We’re not here just to reach a quarter-final,” Kane said before the France game. Yet that is where they fell to a formidable and experienced French side in a game of fine margins.
England created plenty of chances that rattled an edgy French defence, but it was Didier Deschamps’s clinical team who prevailed in a gripping contest with little to separate the sides apart from the 2-1 scoreline.
“We’ve done such a good job that you have fewer regrets. My immediate feeling is that there are less things to reflect on that could have been done differently,” Southgate said.
For England, the future is bright with a new generation of players like Bukayo Saka, Phil Foden and Jude Bellingham – youngsters who are yet to reach their prime – lighting up the tournament.
“I don’t think we looked out of place. There are so many good things they’ve done, so much to be excited about – like the age of the players,” Southgate said.
“We’ve once again shown the rest of the world that English football is healthy and we’ve got some players not only for now but for the future as well.”
A six-match winless run and five games without a goal from open play in the Nations League this year had pointed to an early exit in Qatar.
There were calls for Southgate to step down before the World Cup, but the manager and the English FA kept calm.
“I suppose for all international managers, World Cups and European Championships are what you were always judged on in the past,” Southgate had said.
Any questions about their readiness for the World Cup were erased as they started with a 6-2 thrashing of Iran before topping the group with a tournament-high nine goals.
Senegal were ruthlessly dispatched in the last 16 with goals from all areas of the pitch and Kane opened his account to justify his claim that he had learned to taper his form to peak in the knockout stages.
But despite equalling Wayne Rooney’s record as England’s top scorer with his 53rd goal when he equalised against France, Kane wasted the opportunity to claim the record outright when he skied his second penalty over the bar.
“It is a result of 100 minutes of football and a lots of things that happened at both ends of the pitch. Even if that penalty was scored, we had a lot to do to win the game,” Southgate said.
“We’ve always stuck together as a team… We win or lose together, simple as that.” — Reuters