Is football coming home for England?

By Nazmus Saquib

Carlos Bacca saw his penalty brilliantly saved by young English keeper Jordan Pickford. It all came down to one kick of the football from substitute midfielder Eric Dier. The nation held its breath. From Spartak to Essex, it’s almost that you could hear the heartbeats of the English.

Not even greats like Ian Wright could bear to watch as he hid himself in the hands of Lee Dixon. After all, a penalty shootout in the World Cup had always ended in despair for the Three Lions. Dier stepped up. Unlike his predecessors, he tucked it into the bottom right corner of Colombian David Ospina’s goal.

Spartak erupted, so did Essex. People threw their beer pints with (probably) more passion than graduates throwing their hats in the graduation ceremonies. Tears of ecstasy and joy rolled down. Harry Kane & Co. rushed towards Pickford who, just 6 years ago, used to play sixth tier football for Darlington. The nation always expected, they were let down in most cases. But this time, they finally could shout at the top of their lungs.

“It’s coming home”, a rendition for the Euro 1996 held in England started to circulate even more than usual. This time, with the feeling that the World Cup might actually be coming home after more than half a century away. After all, England had just won a World Cup penalty shoot-out. Who wouldn’t let themselves a little loose with the hype?

It’s probably fitting that Pickford & Dier were the stars of the shootout. It defined something a little unnatural, especially for England. Throughout their world cup journeys of the past, English managers have had the knack of choosing players on the basis of their CV rather the performances. They went for brilliant individuals rather than a collective team. And this is exactly where Gareth Southgate triumphed. He picked a 23-man squad not many had high hopes of. And introduced a quite ‘Italian’ looking 3-man defence, something the English aren’t well equipped with. He picked a squad who were willing to sacrifice themselves for the team. Take Kyle Walker for example. The attacking minded fullback has been turned into a quite brilliant RCB by the gaffer. He picked players like Lingard, Trippier who have cemented their places in the lineup & are performing at the top of their prowess. In short, Southgate went for consistency rather than achievements. And the players have delivered. Take Harry Maguire for example. When he was relegated with Hull City, how many of us saw him as an almost irreplaceable cog in the Southgate machine?

This world cup, England have played some of the finest football they have in quite a long time. They have scored 11 goals in one single world cup for the first time since, well you guessed it, 1966. And it’s not just the goals. With Walker-Maguire-Stones, England have one of the finest defences of the world cup. Southgate has mixed the youth of Alli, Lingard with the experience of Young & Henderson. This has been England’s best world cup by far of recent memories. With the Southgate army fully moulded into their gaffer’s philosophy & willing to sacrifice themselves for the betterment of the team, it’s easy to see why England have made it to the last 4 of a tournament where the big names have fallen prematurely.

With arguable playing to lose against Belgium & achieving it, some may question the mentality of the English but what you definitely can’t question is that England’s master plan of going with their head instead of the ‘To be the best, you’ve to beat the best’ theory has definitely worked for them. They’ve avoided the likes of Brazil. Croatia awaits them in the semis. And if they overcome that hurdle, a clash against a tournament favorite awaits them in Luzhniki stadium. With captain Harry Kane firing on all cylinders & a team rather than a collection of individuals, why wouldn’t England dare to dream? Why wouldn’t most of the Facebook posts include the ‘It’s coming home’ vibe? Why wouldn’t the media go overboard with them? And finally, who’s to say that it definitely won’t be coming home?