By Brian Tamayao
Since winning the World Cup back in 1966, England have encountered numerous stories of heartbreak and humiliation in the big stage.
From embarrassing group stage exits to multiple penalty shootout defeats, it’s as if there is an unwritten rule in football – that England cannot win a major trophy again. Over the last 15 tournament matches they played, England only managed to win four times.
No tournament in recent history summed it up better than Euro 2016. England finished second in a group many expected them to finish first, only winning once albeit against the eventual group winners and semifinalists Wales. Draws against Russia and Slovakia precedes a nightmare in Nice against Iceland.
— Kelly Smith MBE (@kelly_smith10) June 24, 2018
Fast forward to two years and the script has changed. Two games into the World Cup and England are in red-hot form. They dispatched Tunisia via a late Harry Kane goal before going on to smash six past hapless Panama approaching their pivotal clash against Belgium.
Harry Kane already has the second-most goals for an Englishman at the FIFA World Cup.
He’s only played 2 games… pic.twitter.com/uJ60UVNfcl
— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) June 24, 2018
The Three Lions’ win over the Central Americans ensured qualification and now they are looking to qualify as group winners. By the looks of things, England’s sorry night in Southern France is now a thing of the distant past. What has happened since? To answer that question, it’s important to revisit these pivotal moments behind England’s transformation within 48 months.
Qualification for the 2018 World Cup began in Trnava, Slovakia where England left it really late to edge the Slovaks, 1-0. It was looking like another 0-0 between the two teams would take place, with their Euro 2016 encounter also yielding another result. However, Adam Lallana managed to grab a late goal to take three points home for the Three Lions.
Big Sam watching England in the pub on his own with a Big Mac.
— Everton FC News (@LivEchoEFC) June 24, 2018
Eventually, this became the only match of the Sam Allardyce era as a corruption scandal forced “Big Sam” out of the helm. England’s Under-21 coach Gareth Southgate then took over on an interim basis. The former England defender oversaw three more matches in the qualifiers. In that span, England recorded seven out of nine points to move in front of their group early on. They haven’t looked back since.
Draw with Scotland
Later on, Southgate was appointed as England manager on a permanent basis. In a group that saw little competition, his team braced for a huge test away to neighbors Scotland. As expected by many, England grabbed the first goal when Liverpool’s Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain scored from inside the box.
Things then took a wild turn late in the game as two free kicks by Leigh Griffiths turned the game on its head. Scotland, all of a sudden, were looking to beat England for the first time since 1999. Fortunately for England, a Scottish victory against them will have to wait as Harry Kane kept the Three Lions unbeaten in qualifying.
At the end of the game, the young England boss heaped praise on his squad by saying: “It’s a big moment for the team. We have questioned character and they’ve shown character today.” Such character would then be on display just lately when they grabbed all three points against Tunisia in the World Cup opener. Establishing it as early as then has truly made the England squad a resilient bunch – a useful trait in pursuit of the elusive World Cup trophy.
In August of 2017, England’s record goalscorer and skipper Wayne Rooney has decided to call it a day with the national team. The Everton forward was set to join England in their September 2017 qualifiers but turned down the opportunity, going on to say that it was the “right decision” to bow out of international football.
Roy Hodgson admits he was surprised to see Wayne Rooney retire from international football with England. 🦁 pic.twitter.com/jFIsEbu7PG
— Goal (@goal) November 18, 2017
His decision quietly changed the dynamic of the England squad as old guards deemed untouchable in previous selections began to be vulnerable. It did so by allowing emerging talent, young or otherwise, to have a crack at the England lineup. Players such as Harry Kane, Dele Alli, Jesse Lingard and John Stones benefited the most by making themselves England regulars in the process.
— England (@England) May 16, 2018
Overall. the makeup of the squad that headed to Russia vastly changed. Only 12 out of the players made more than 20 caps prior to the World Cup. Also,the starting lineup Southgate went with in the tournament so far also shows the difference between his selection and those made by Roy Hodgson in 2014. Only Raheem Sterling and Jordan Henderson featured in both teams. Looking at the whole squad, a whole lot has changed too with Gary Cahill, Phil Jones, and Danny Welbeck the other ensemble involved in Brazil four years ago. It means 18 players in Southgate’s 23 had yet to play in the World Cup prior to 2018 – a bold decision that looks to be paying off for the 47 year-old.
England double over Slovakia
Ushering the post-Rooney era of England football were a couple of important World Cup qualifiers. First of those was a trip to Malta where they defeated the hosts, 4-0. Back home, they were then tested by a tough Slovak side looking to avenge a home defeat in the reverse fixture. The gap between the two teams was at two points, meaning a Slovakia win would put England off course for top spot.
— Chris Cowlin (@ChrisCowlin) October 5, 2017
The English did not enjoy the best of starts after an error made by Marcus Rashford led to a Stanislav Lobotka goal in less than four minutes. The England wonderkid did atone for his mistake by setting up the equalizer scored by Erik Dier. He then completely redeemed himself by tallying the winner 11 minutes before time. Staring at the possibility of losing top spot early in the game, England ended the night needing just a win point to confirm their place in Russia.
Southgate branded the home victory over Slovakia as his “best win” at the time, hailing the team’s resilience in a difficult encounter. “To come back in a manner we did and regain control in the last 20 minutes of the first half and then go on to be by far the better team in the second half, I was really pleased with the response,” the former Middlesbrough boss stated after the match. Focusing on the positives, England comfortably qualified with eight wins and two draws.
Phenomenal World Cup start
England entered the 2018 World Cup with less pressure as previous disappointments did not set the tone of great hope among the English. The wounds of Sao Paolo and Nice were still fresh for some and looks like new scars would surface when England were in for a tough night against Tunisia.
England advance to the round of 16 in the FIFA World Cup for the first time since 2010. pic.twitter.com/gnY08yY6fY
— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) June 24, 2018
The Three Lions started brightly – as they usually do in most World Cups – when Kane gave them an early lead. A mistake by Kyle Walker later in the first half, alongside many missed opportunities in front of goal, invited the North Africans back in it. They levelled 1-1 and it seemed to be ending that way until Kane saved the day for England. They then made sure that there won’t be a repeat of that when they met Panama as they scored five of the six in the opening half.
— FIFA World Cup 🏆 (@FIFAWorldCup) June 24, 2018
Now, they are preparing for their first big test against Belgium – another team that has impressed in the World Cup so far. It may still be early to say but England have emerged from a quarterfinalist at best to a serious contender in a span of a week. All that could change when they meet Belgium on Thursday, yet things are looking on the up for the 1966 World Cup winners.