Were Southgate’s England all they were cracked up to be?

England were eliminated by Croatia in the semi-finals of the World Cup. The Three Lions’ dream was over, but their journey to the final four captured the imagination of a nation. On reflection, however, did England perform as expected given their opposition? Was their run to the semi-final as impressive as first made out?

Manager Gareth Southgate took the plaudits for the part he played in getting England further than they’ve been since 1990, but should a side gain so much credit for winning just three of their seven games in the World Cup? The Three Lions only beat Sweden, Tunisia and Panama and failed to see past Colombia, Belgium (twice) and Croatia in normal time. It’s nothing special, is it?

Game-by-game analysis

England struck late in their opening group game with Tunisia, with Harry Kane sealing a 2-1 win at the death. While in control for the majority of the match, England couldn’t hold onto their early lead and were taken the distance by a side deemed considerably inferior.

They were more convincing against Panama, but the North America side were big underdogs to register a point on the board. Beating them wouldn’t earn England too many plaudits, even if Kane came away with a hat-trick. Southgate’s men were expected to win. Their first big test would always be against Belgium in the final group game.

Roberto Martinez’s men were fancied to go far at the World Cup and got the better of England when the two sides met – 1-0. Southgate had made changes to the first-team, but his side underperformed against Belgium. Qualification was already confirmed but going through in second place would have mean avoiding the pre-tournament favourites.

A Colombia side missing James Rodriguez awaited England in the last-16 and they still took the Three Lions to penalties. The South American side started strong, faded at the mid-point and ended strongly, scoring in the last minute after giving away a penalty in the 53rd minute. It took a penalty shootout to separate the sides, but things were easier in the quarter-final.

Sweden were no match for England and Southgate’s men won 2-0 without much trouble. Goals either side of half-time saw England into the semi-finals of the World Cup for the first time in 28 years, but Croatia proved to be no slouches.

Player-for-player, many will argue England are the better side, but Croatia were certain better coached. Despite falling behind minutes into the game, Zlatko Dalić’s men were calm and believed in their ability to get back into the match with a patient style of build-up play. They scored to take the game to extra time and found the net midway through the second-half of extra time to book their place in the final.

England’s tournament ended on a further sour note after losing to Belgium again without scoring in the third-place playoff – reminding supporters that the Three Lions may have finished fourth, but they aren’t the fourth-best nation.

There’s a trend with the games England won in normal time and the matches they didn’t. Getting to the semis is an achievement in itself, but was their journey so impressive given the results? Would England sides of the past also fall short?


Can England beat Colombia in the last-16 of the World Cup?

England were drawn against Colombia in the last-16 of the World Cup on Thursday, June 28 after finishing second in Group G following their 1-0 defeat to Belgium in their last game.

The Three Lions qualified with six points from a possible nine – after wins in their two opening games against Tunisia and Panama – and many now believe they have a great opportunity to reach the semi-finals due to the luck of their draw (Colombia in the last-16, Sweden/Switzerland in the quarter-finals, Spain/Russia/Croatia/Denmark in the semi-finals).

But are England underestimating Colombia? The South American side reached the quarter-finals of the 2014 World Cup – England were eliminated at the group stage. The Three Lions don’t have the best record in tournaments after the group stage, so why are many assuming a victory for Gareth Southgate’s men?

How good are Colombia?

Colombia booked their place in the last-16 of the World Cup after finishing top of Group H with six points from a possible nine. They lost their opener to Japan but recovered with consecutive victories against Poland and Senegal. José Pékerman’s side have made history, as it’s only the third time ever that Colombia have reached the knockouts of a World Cup (1990, 2014, 2018).

They’re a much stronger outfit these days, boasting talent such as David Ospina (Arsenal), Cristián Zapata (AC Milan), Yerry Mina (Barcelona), Davinson Sanchez (Tottenham Hotspur) Radamel Falcao (AS Monaco), James Rodriguez (Real Madrid), Juan Cuadrado (Juventus) and Carlos Bacca (Villarreal).

They’re no slouches and their form ahead of the tournament wasn’t bad either. Colombia had picked up two wins and two draws from their last four internationals prior to the World Cup, beating France and China, while drawing with Australia and Egypt – keeping three clean sheets for their troubles. England shouldn’t underestimate Pékerman’s side, especially given their own poor record in knockout games

How have England fared in knockout games in past tournaments?

England have won the World Cup (1966) and reached a semi-final (1990) but haven’t gone further than the quarter-finals since. The Three Lions have won 10 of their last 24 World Cup games after their antics in 1990, while failing to win a knockout fixture since 2006. They don’t have the best record against big nations in the tournament either.

Since reaching the quarter-finals of the 2006 World Cup, England have beaten Slovenia (2010), Tunisia (2018) and Panama (2018). It’s a poor record in the tournament and one that will give Colombia a lot of confidence ahead of Tuesday’s fixture. Time will tell if England can finally buck the trend.