“I thought J Liew’s article today hit the nail on the head,” returns John Trolan. “Those who have been there before bring a calmness and confidence to the occasion. Giroud looked rubbish for 10 minutes before he hit the winner. Out of position, couldn’t keep up with the pace and I was surprised he was still on the pitch. But then one chance and he doesn’t blink.”
I think that’s a little generous. Giroud missed a great chance before he scored, the best of the half, and Tchouameni and Hernandez both gave away penalties unnecessarily. Football is a chaotic game, and last night, that worked for France, but it could just as easily not have done.
“Arg v Ned was undoubtedly a dull game,” says Brendan Large. “If you said this was a great game and then showed the first 82 mins to someone they’d think you had lost all grip on reality. The only thing ‘good’ was the excitement at the end. Even extra time was rubbish.”
I referred my mate to Brazil v France from 1986 – and that was played on an unhelpful pitch in the heat of the day. You can watch the full match here and you won’t regret it, I promise.
“Somehow like a poor film, you still remember the one great line years later … the Netherlands free-kick at the end…” says Richard Potter.
That was the goal of the tournament by miles, for mine. The daring to try it under pressure – though I guess if it doesn’t come off, maybe the players can blame managment.
I wrote a little about that here:
“England are like Man City in the Champions League,” says Ian Macpherson. “They have the players, the manager, the resources, can put breathtaking moves together and score great goals … but when the chips are down are outwitted by more savvy teams. They gave it a great shot, but came short at crucial moments, no disgrace in that, especially as the young stars need to learn a bit more cunning I feel. Something France had in their greater experience and nous. They will come good.
On the subject of Southgate, it is crazy to knee-jerk call for his dismissal. There is nobody who could take over and do better, and starting all over with a new man will just disrupt everything he has patiently built around the squad. Let us remember he has detoxified the atmosphere around playing for England, and has created a positive team culture with a raft of young talent. He has addressed the nasty undercurrent of nationalism which has bedevilled the England support for decades, and for that alone should be honoured. To throw that away in the pursuit of a quick fix which will probably set them back is short sighted in the extreme. There is no saviour waiting in the wings. People will remember this match as a classic of its kind, so close it could have gone either way, full of incident and drama. For that alone let us be thankful and enjoy it.”
I agree that it was the best last-eight tie by far, but disagree a little on City. They keep getting caught, as Munich under Guardiola did, because they don’t have the back five to handle it when, as is almost inevitable at that level, a side with serious attackers gets it together. When he had Messi and the greatest midfield ever, he could get away with it, but not otherwise.
“Great football matches don’t always equate to great football,” says John Toolan. “That match between Argentina and Netherlands had everything you want from a classic. Argentina odds on to win until … and the rest is history. You couldn’t take your eyes off it – even when it was over!”
The needle was tremendous, I agree, but I found the game fairly disappointing until the last 10minutes. What I will say is that both that game and Brazil Croatia delivered pretty decent extra-time, which is extremely unusual.
“Southgate did a ‘much better job’ by what metric?” emails Nathaniel Byrne. “Going out sooner in the tournament? Or because they beat an Iranian team without their concussed goalkeeper, an already eliminated Wales and a Senegal team who were missing Mane and just about qualified from a group with their worst team in a World Cup in decades. The soft soap that everyone is applying to Southgate is sickening to an outsider. No critical opinion is being put into his terrible subs, the insipid play throughout the game but particularly the last 10 minutes and the cowardice his teams have always played with. Relegated in Nations league but still doing “‘a much better job’ than what?! Mike Bassett?!”
The metric of what my eyes tell me. The England team at the Euros were better than the England team in the 2018 World Cup, and the England team at this World Cup were better than the England team at the Euros. I don’t really care too much about the Nations League; I criticised his subs below; but I think you can lose a World Cup quarter to the holders, narrowly, and it not mean the manager is rubbish.
“There’s a parallel universe where, Kane having scored the first penalty against his Spurs team mate, reckons the second just seems too risky to try it again, so he hands the ball to Ivan Toney…”
There is no universe, parallel or otherwise, where a killer and team captain like Harry Kane passes on that responsibility. And Ivan Toney has never taken penalties under pressure anywhere near as intense, which is something to which we don’t pay enough heed. We think what separates sportsfolk from the rest of us is talent, and it is, but what also differentiates them from us is the desire to embrace fear.
Settle an argument: I was saying to mate yesterday that the Argentina v Netherlands game wasn’t a classic, it just got a bit exciting at the end; he insisted it was a terrific game of football and a World Cup classic. Which of us is right?
Away from England for a moment, this is incredible.
What we need to accept, I think, is that at the top level, it’s possible to play well and lose because the opposition have good players and lots of experience. That’ll be hard for the players to tolerate because a semi-final against Morocco was there for the taking, while Kane and Maguire, who’ll be 33 next time round, might feel this was the chance of their lifetimes.
“It is not enough to set up a team and send them out with the mindset ‘not lose’,” says Anthony Trent. “We have to be brave, we have to have the courage to dare to win.”
I think England did try to win last night. The issue was execution not ideology.
“Southgate is not anywhere near good enough for the job,” emails Patrick Cox. “He has flattered to deceive in every tournament he’s played in thus far. Losing to Croatia in a semi-final? Four million people? Losing to Italy in a final when they can’t qualify for the World Cup is subpar, to be kind about it. The qualifying and friendlies haven’t been a roaring success either. It is sad to lose a great generation of talent like Roberto Martinez with Belgium being poorly managed but it seems to be a theme in international soccer. Those two victories would have set this team up for a title run this tournament but only with a good manager. This England team are fragile mentally, failure is accepted and we should have eaten France up.”
I don’t think it matters how many people live in Croatia if among them are Modric, Kovacic, Rakitic, Mandzukic and so on. I do think Southgate’s tactics were poor against Italy in the Euros final, but in this tournament he did a much better job and ultimately, his players didn’t execute at the big moments. That’s their fault, not his, I’d say
From PA: “Football Association chief executive Mark Bullingham has expressed his pride for Gareth Southgate and the England squad after their World Cup exit. A 2-1 defeat by France in the quarter-finals ended what had been a positive tournament for the national side. ‘Like all England fans we feel the pain of losing a quarter-final, along with the coaches, players and support team who are hurting this morning,’ he said in a statement. “Gareth and Steve (Holland) prepared the team exceptionally well throughout the tournament. The players were committed to winning the trophy and were very well led by Harry Kane. ‘But sport can have fine margins and on the day, against the current world champions, it was not to be. ‘This is a very exciting young English squad and, despite the intense disappointment of last night, they should be very proud of their performances in Qatar. ‘We are incredibly proud of Gareth, the players, the coaches and the support team and appreciate all the hard work they put in.’”
“Regarding Southgate,” says TS Ahmad, I think his team is mature enough to win without him. I don’t know if fans want to see him in for the Euros; time must be spent efficiently and you have a fantastic squad but that are growing too so if England doesn’t win it wouldn’t fans think back and say: he should have gone by the end of the World Cup, he only took us to the quarter finals? (even it is hard to do it, as the sentiment is that the boys played well). Hard to see a capable manager (e.g.Eddie Howe) leave their jobs and pursue the England one.”
Yup, I don’t see that there are loads of alternative options should Southgate turn it in.
And here are Barney Ronay’s thoughts (apologies, I’ve had some connectivity issues).
“Lack of chances?” says Ed Bayling. “Think you’re being a bit harsh there. Bellingham drew a great save from Lloris with that fiery volley, and Maguire nicked the woodwork with a back post header from about four yards. And one could argue the penalties would have been good chances, but for a timely foul…”
I wouldn’t class Bellingham’s dig as a chance created – the ball fell to him and he had a dig, but it was almost impossible to score from there given the height and pressure. Which leaves us with one header from a corner; I don’t think Mount was getting near the pass prior to the penalty he won, nor do I think Saka was on the cusp of creating something but for Tcouameni’s foul.
Email! “When a French fan was asked who they feared about England, he said, ‘Rashford’,” muses Peter Gartner, “Rashford, given more of a chance, could be as good as Mbappé. We might have done better if Rashford had started, instead of putting him on with about five minutes left. I don’t understand Southgate under-using Rashford.”
I don’t think Rashford could be as good as Mbappé, but I do think he’s got more talent than Sterling – Sterling has just played in better teams and for better managers and coaches. My guess on his usage by Southgate is that he’s a really good sub – a better one than three other wide attackers – and I thought oden and Saka did well in the second half yesterday.
One thought that’s nagging at me: even when England were dominant in the game, they still failed to create any serious chances, and the best one of the second half was wasted by Giroud.
Here are Jonathan Liew’s thoughts on last night.
The story of last night, in photo form.
There’s live sport for our delectation going on right now, the Testvangelists at it again.
I’d be fairly surprised if Southgate goes. I think he husbanded his resources far more wisely than in the Euros, and England now have a team able to go up against yer Frances and try to dominate. Previously, they’d have planned to defend deep while hoping for a counter or a moment of magic. Now, though, they’ve the ability to dominate in midfield, and if Kalvin Phillips were to replace Jordan Henderson, you’d have three absolute physical brutes, which some very serious technical ability. England and Southgate will know they were good enough to win this tournament, but that they’ll be better two years from now.
On which point, I’ll tell you what I absolutely loved: Giroud’s celebration. When France won the World Cup in 2018, he not only failed to score but didn’t even record a shot on target. He won’t mind too much because he did his job for the team, but it’d be foolish to think that didn’t bother his pride, and he’s making amends this time round.
In similar vein, I agree with Maguire that the ref was poor. But you almost never lose a game because of the officials; they make mistakes and it’s up to the players to be good enough in spite of that. It wasn’t the ref who, to take a random example, allowed Giroud in front of them to score the winning goal.
I’m afraid, though, that was not a game settled on ‘small details”, because wellying a late penalty over the bar is, I’m afraid, a colossal happening.
I agree with Jacob that Saka and Rice were England’s best players, but I thought Bellingham looked a little leggy in the second half. On which point, Sterling for Saka was a very strange sub, I thought. It was, of course, possible that Sterling might’ve scored, but it was hard to see him having as much influence on the game and the player he replaced.
And here are Jacob Steinberg’s player ratings.
Here’s David Hytner’s match report from the Al Bayt Stadium.
Every now and again – really not often – a misfortune befalls a sportsperson that has you wincing because you know they’ll be lugging it about them for the rest of their days. John Terry slipping in the 2008 Champions League final, Steven Gerrard saying this doesn’t slip then slipping before Demba Ba scored for Chelsea … and poor old Harry Kane missing a penalty when England looked in with a chance of becoming world champions.
So we’ll be spending today looking back at that and the rest of the quarter-finals, while looking forward to the semis and beyond. Send us in your thoughts, and we’ll see where we get to.