England have gone out of the World Cup at the quarter-final stage when forced for the first time to take on a really good team.
It’s a familiar refrain, but this time felt a bit different. England weren’t outmatched or outplayed by France but just landed on the shitty side of the fine margins in place when two good teams meet. And it would probably have been a good idea not to miss that late penalty. But not only was there no disgrace, there wasn’t really that same old ‘heroic yet inevitable failure’ vibe either.
So who did their bit for England? We’ve done a sort of ranking-grouping type wotsit because we weren’t quite sure how else to to go about it.
The only job on earth we can think of that is even better than being a third-choice club goalkeeper is being a third-choice international goalkeeper. One of the sweetest gigs in all of sport, surely.
Second-choice keeper is a bit dicier, though, isn’t it? You could be involved at literally any minute but also you probably won’t. Bit more of a head-fuck, that. Pope seems like an unflappable sort, though.
A textbook example of what in cricket would be referred to as “a good tourist”. Never really sure what this meant. Sorting out visas? making sure everyone has their boarding passes? He does seem like a tremendously good egg, has done lots and lots of media and also seems to be involved in every single video that has been churned out for sponsors etc. Feels like it’s a genuinely important role in a modern football squad and we don’t want to start sounding like he’s a joke of a footballer either, because he’s not. But it’s clear that his role in the team extends well beyond football. He’s the squad equivalent of the bloke who holds the ball and guards the penalty spot after a penalty is given so that the actual taker can focus on his task without distraction. A coaching future seems inevitable. If we’re going all the way back to our cricket analogy, Conor Coady is Paul Collingwood.
A reminder that football is only the most important of the unimportant things. We don’t know what’s happened, aren’t going to speculate and we just hope that everything is okay.
The player who will catch out a thousand Planet Football quizzers in four years’ time.
Maddison has done Southgate an absolute solid here. Arguably nobody has proved themselves a better team man than Maddison, a bloke whose jib the cut of which Southgate was previously deeply suspicious. But this has been ideal. Southgate picked Maddison in his 26 to head off the initial Clamour, and Maddison then selflessly picked up an injury that was severe enough to keep him out of action without ruling him out of the squad altogether, thus stopping in its tracks any subsequent Clamour re. starting XI or playing time or anything else. It’s all worked out perfectly for Southgate. The Clamour, of course, cannot be denied altogether so it simply transferred instantly and seamlessly to Phil Foden. By the knockout stages, absolutely nobody seemed to even remember James Maddison was there. In short, he was exemplary.
His 20 minutes on the field at the formalities end of the Iran game were perhaps England’s diciest 20 minutes of defending of the tournament so far. None of that was particularly Dier’s fault, but it’s still not hard to see why Stones and Maguire remain Southgate’s preferred pair. Both Stones and Maguire are better for the presence of the other. Dier’s other brief stint against Senegal also involved splitting up Stones and Maguire, with the City man the one to make way on that occasion.
Absolutely key member of the Euros team but his own injury problems and the Bellingham Emergence was always going to have an impact. Still, got himself an assist in a brief run-out against Wales and remains a lovely reliable option for England to have in the squad and at 27 is the short-term replacement for Jordan Henderson among all those nauseatingly gifted and exciting younglings.
Still feel like we’ve barely even scratched the surface of the Trent Alexander-Arnold Culture War that will surely define football for the next decade. The fact people will be able to position themselves on both sides of the divide from one week to the next will all be part of the fun. His England future is so indelibly tied to Gareth Southgate’s. We love Southgate, we’ve backed him relentlessly on TAA but there is also a non-trivial part of us that would really like to see this England generation playing a Mauricio Pochettino 4-2-3-1 with Trent providing the marauding, attacking width down the right.
We know it’s a game of opinions and all that, but we still feel it became far too socially acceptable to utter the entirely absurd phrase “I’d drop Kane for Callum Wilson, actually” in public, in front of other people. But with that being said, he proved absolutely fine in his designated role of “Giving Kane a few precious minutes of rest in games already won”. He also proved adept at mirroring Kane’s “creative striker” role with an unselfishly aware assist for Grealish in the opening game and plenty of clever moments against Wales. There is certainly absolutely no evidence that Southgate got it wrong in preferring Wilson to Your Ivan Toneys or the Tammy Abrahams of this world anyway.
Might not catch the eye like some of the others, but definitely does plenty to give the dazzlers room to do their thing. Like it or not, Southgate knows more about being England manager than yer da, and Mount will remain a key part of his squad. In fairness, didn’t help himself against the US by actually having the sort of game people insist he has in every game. He doesn’t need to be going around giving any confirmation-bias assistance to his detractors. It was a foolish decision and if we were him we would definitely have simply played better in that game. Won a penalty against France that we now rather wish he hadn’t because it is so much more painful this way. Like most criticism of his England performances, this is of course both wildly unfair and not his fault.
Excellent against Iran, but weirdly ineffective against the USA in a game in which he and Harry Kane appeared to entirely forget the existence of the other. It was all very strange and we feel at least partly responsible. Forced out of the next two games by horrible unpleasantness, and while he did precious little as a late substitute against France it would a churlish prick indeed he took issue with that.
Has appeared in all five games but on the pitch for less than 90 minutes in total. Feels like that’s his role in this team, and he’s a pretty useful option. At international level his “try and win a bunch of free-kicks our big lads might exploit” appears to be his primary function when there’s 20 minutes left and England are looking for inspiration/goals.
Three goals in 137 minutes is good, isn’t it? We’ll make no apologies for being absolutely delighted about every single element of the Rashford Renaissance, knowing that every goal he scores is causing a brain malfunction for the “stick to football” merchants. Extremely funny to watch some of them claim that they have been proved right rather than entirely wrong. We’ll replay that injury-time free-kick against France only slightly less agonisingly often than Kane’s penalty, to be honest.
Excellent against Senegal and proved he still has that big-match expertise and experience England so thoroughly need against France. If we were going to have one nitpicky criticism of England’s general quarter-final scheme (we’re obviously going ahead and assuming here that ‘missing a penalty’ was not a strategy) then it would be that Henderson probably stayed on 10 minutes too long. But it was a tough call to make and even with hindsight we’re not entirely convinced. Has been to six major tournaments now with England and we absolutely wouldn’t rule out a seventh. We’re giving serious thought to passing the “50. Phil Neville” mantle in the Famous England Ladder to Henderson when he eventually departs the international scene. There can be no greater accolade than that.
Hasn’t entirely convinced in Qatar despite being in arguably the very best club form of his career. Set-piece delivery hasn’t been up to its usual standard but in complaining about the flyaway nature of the ball he has at least ticked off an absolute key element of any self-respecting World Cup Bingo Card. Walker for Trippier felt like the one change made against Wales that wasn’t all about rest and rotation, and so it proved.
Missed out on the first two games through injury but was absolutely fine in his first hour of the tournament against Wales and seemed to enjoy coming up against fellow speedster Dan James in a contest for which “foot race” – one of our absolute favourite curious football phrases – was invented. His selection despite injury meaning he wouldn’t be around for the start of the tournament owed much to his general service to England over the years but also that singular attribute of pace. It was a selection that always seemed to have “Potential Quarter-final Against Kylian Mbappe” in the back of its mind, and the reserved approach he took against Senegal felt like a dress rehearsal. Sure enough, he was entrusted with the Mbappe Job against France and did it manfully. Must surely lose that pace at some point, you’d imagine? He’s 32, which seems absurdly old for Designated Speedster.
Oh, Harry. Why didn’t you just fucking blast it down the middle? It’s Hugo Lloris. You know Hugo Lloris. You’ve watched him not save penalties for a decade. Just get it on target, man. Even if he does save it he’ll have come off his line because he always does. You’ll get another chance. The sad reality is that Kane’s miss could not be more perfect fuel for his detractors. It is simple and easy to note that it was Spursy and contained more than a hint of both choke and bottle job. He simply didn’t take that penalty with anything like the alacrity with which the first – only slightly less high-stakes – spot-kick was dispatched. It will haunt him. Actually had a very good tournament – just as England probably had a better 2022 tournament than the 2018 one where they went further, Kane probably had a better 2022 than the 2018 one where he won the Golden Boot. He went past Gary Lineker’s all-time England tournament goals record and level with Wayne Rooney as the leading England men’s goalscorer ever, and showed the undeniable growth in his game over the last four years by also laying on three high-quality assists. You’re still thinking about the bad news, aren’t you?
Was a tiny bit iffy against Iran, but luckily for Maguire and everyone else the six goals at the other end were enough of a distraction to prevent him becoming much of a twitter punching bag on this occasion. Absolutely fine in the three clean sheets that followed but also annoyingly a little bit at fault for France’s winner which meant that a fine tournament that looked to have all manner of redemptive powers for the big fella ended on a bit of a pisser.
Very good in the early stages of the tournament, which was just as well because there are quite conspicuously no other left-backs in the England squad due to Gareth Southgate being a maverick risk-taker and irredeemably wedded to the idea that there is nothing a left-back does that can’t be adequately replicated by just moving a right-back 50 yards across the pitch. If we’re going to be critical, England could have done with him being ever so slightly more pro-active against France given Walker was always, inevitably, going to be significantly occupied on the other flank and Shaw’s crossing ability had the scope to unsettle an oft unconvincing French defence.
Got his chance against Wales. Took his chance against Wales. Southgate was qualified in his praise afterwards, though, but Foden was in and stayed in. One of the best players on the pitch against Senegal and pretty bloody good against France as well, especially in those first 25 minutes of the second half when England really did look like they could pull it off.
Drifts in and out of favour at club level but England always look and just as importantly feel much better when he’s there. International football does seem to really suit him and he and Maguire have the happy knack of each making the other look better. Again, not always something that has been the case when very good players come together on England duty.
Absolutely vital of course, and no surprise to see him join Kane on Southgate’s list of people he felt able to give a little rest in the closing stages against Wales. Like Kane, England have nobody else who can do quite what he does to the same level and consistency. England’s second most important player. It’s Kane, Rice, daylight on that front although Bellingham might just be closing in.
Two lovely goals against Iran in a lovely moment for a lovely footballer. Have we mentioned that we love him? We’re increasingly of the opinion that England can pick absolutely any of their assorted options in the “causing mischief around Harry Kane” roles, but we are at our happiest when Saka is one of those mischief-makers. Mainly because it means nobody is asking him to play left wing-back, which in all seriousness must never happen again please. Superb against France, managing to win a penalty despite an apparent late law-change which decreed that French thugs booting our beloved Starboy up in the air was nice and legal. Who knows how different the game might have been had it been played to the previous set of laws? Such are the fine margins at the very highest level.
He’s just absurdly good and we’ve long since stopped trying to be sensible or avoid overburdening such a young player with impossible expectations. If he doesn’t end his career as indisputably England’s greatest ever midfielder we will be astonished and disappointed. It’s also tremendously helpful that England have two generational midfield talents in Rice and Bellingham who are actually able to play together. They are 23 and 19; it’s okay to be gutted and disappointed about Another Tournament Heartbreak, but if you’re not excited about what’s ahead for England then you don’t have blood in your veins.
We like how cross he got about the goals in the Iran game. We like how cross he gets about any situation in which he is required to do his actual literal job. We like how we no longer even worry that he might do something alarmingly Pickford. Absolutely no reason whatsoever to suppose he isn’t getting cross while performing ably at another three or four major tournaments.