England’s dreams of bringing home the 2022 World Cup came to a disappointing end after a 2-1 quarter-final defeat to reigning champions France.
In a thrilling tie, England gave as good as they got but ultimately Olivier Giroud’s 78th-minute header and a Harry Kane penalty blazed over the bar proved decisive.
Another tournament exit to a top side will no doubt bring about criticism for manager Gareth Southgate and from some, there will likely be calls for a change of management.
However, even despite an earlier exit than the previous two international tournaments, this one felt different.
The defeats to Croatia in 2018 and Italy in 2021 hurt as it felt like England had brought it upon themselves by inviting pressure after an early goal.
But England played well enough to win the game last night, and on another day with some better finishing and a few more decisions that go England’s way, they deservedly would have.
Southgate said it himself in his post-match interview: “Congratulations to France, they know they’ve been in a hell of a game and I don’t think we could’ve done anymore.
“It is probably the best we have played against a major nation across the period I have been in charge.”
When previously Southgate has chosen to go more defensive against tougher opposition, often deploying a back five with two defensive-minded midfielders, last night he chose to stick with what was working and take the game to the opposition.
It showed the belief that England can now go toe to toe with the best teams, and England were even on top for much of the game.
Speaking on ITV, Gary Neville called for Southgate to stay on as England manager, saying: “We’ve got a good team of technical players. England is in a pretty good place, let’s be clear about that.
“We’ve been out of tournaments in disgrace in the last 25 years, thinking what the hell is that, what is the future? We’ve got a great future and he is a big part of that.”
It is hard to remember an England squad with this depth of quality, likeability and togetherness, but that is what Southgate has created, and he has earned the right to at least see out his contract by leading this team into Euro 2024.