Weekly football conversation since 2009, with Graham Sibley, Jan Bilton and Terry Duffelen. Listen on Apple, Google, Spotify, Stitcher, TuneIn or your podcatcher of choice.

At least it’s all over... for now

England’s tournament exits always feel bad but Terry Duffelen remains optimistic for the Three Lion’s Future

Dealing with the emotional trauma of an England defeat is much easier than in the past. This is because I'm older and experienced and because England are a decent team with a likeable coach who, mostly, give a good account of themselves on and off the pitch. Historic England defeats are frequently toxified with feelings of boiled fury over the shortcomings of the coach, some of the players, the FA and occasionally Urs Meier.

I can also console myself with the knowledge that we will be back because the English national team is now a genuinely decent international football team, if not the finished article.
Maverick a strike 
This England is the product in large part of a plan, by the FA to transform its coaching programme and generate a group of players with a set of principles capable of challenging for high honours. Some of the attacking players for England are like nothing we've seen in a Three Lions shirt. When I think of historic English forwards I think of efficient, direct number nines like Keegan, Lineker and Shearer from whom Harry Kane and Marcus Rashford are descended. But it's Phil Foden, Jack Grealish and the sadly absent Jason Sancho that are less characteristic of English attackers - the tricky, mercurial, creative types usually mistrusted by English coaches. Think Frank Worthington, Rodney Marsh, Matt Le Tissier, David Rocastle and of course Paul Gascoigne, most of whom are or were portrayed as unreliable mavericks. Prodigiously talented but perceived as too precocious to play in an integrated England team. Today, we seek to produce those players but with smoothed out edges. But it is an indication that England have some more work to do, that both Foden and Grealish are still reluctant selections for the coach.

Another possible issue is England’s apparent inability to beat similarly ranked teams on foreign soil. A potential pitfall that has more than a whiff of first world problems about it. The fear is that failure to beat Belgium and Croatia in Russia and France in Qatar is proof that England can’t be seen as a top team. This feels more like narrative or content than a technical problem to solve. England are so good and need to be so much better to succeed. It is as straightforward or as complicated as that. It’s not really a thing and if it was then it can be resolved by learning from mistakes and improving. Something of which, I think Southgate and England are still capable.

On another day, England would be in the semi-final. In playing the French they drew the short straw. The World Champions, despite their injuries were always going to be motivated after a disappointing European Championship. Kane's missed penalty and some questionable referee calls aside, the English could have taken the game, at least into extra time. This was a 50-50 game that England could have won but didn't. That's football.
Shit referee?
For the conspiracy adjacent, there's not much here. It's possible that, FIFA and the Qatar Supreme Committee have it in for England and are directing referees to be beastly to them after their overt political gestures that are at odds with the values and politics of the Qatari regime. However, it is more likely to be a combination of the weirdness of a South American referee officiating a European derby and the fact that he didn't have a great game.

Wilton Pereira Sampaio went too easy on France centre back, Dayot Upamecano, in my opinion. The Bayern Munich defender will not be able to rely on such generosity against Morocco, who are now the de facto host nation. As for the unsuccessful penalty appeal in the first half: yes, I've seen them given. However, I feel sure that I've also heard ITV's Peter Walton once argue for insufficient contact to warrant overturning an on-field decision when assessing a similar incident during a Premier League match on BT Sport. The fact that the former referee thought that Kane should have had a penalty only demonstrates that when it comes to England, he's as biased as the rest of us.
Sprechen Sie deutsch, baby?
So, Englanders should not freak out. Not long ago they would have been easily second best against the World Champions and suffered a defeat based on a performance that would have sent us into a spiral of shame, self-loathing and had us reaching for the Big Book of Conspiracy Theories. But none of those reactions are warranted. England played well, were just as good as the World Cup holders but just happened to lose. No need to panic or tear up the playbook and certainly no need to reach for the available managers rolodex. Gareth Southgate has his flaws, but he has the backing of the players and an enviable tournament record. Also, unlike some of his predecessors, Southgate is not pursued by the spectre of a potential replacement. Onward to Euro 24 and Germany.

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