It’s now one of the most famous scenes in World Cup history. It was the summer of 1990 in Turin and England were facing West Germany in the World Cup semi-finals. It was the closest the Three Lions had been to World Cup glory since 1966 and Bobby Robson’s side had captured the hearts of the crowds in their home country.
Germany have always been one of the best sides in World Football, and always a tricky opponent for England. It was the Germans who took the lead in Turin, with the scoreline at 1-0 until the 80th minute when Gary Lineker equalised to take the match to extra time. It was in the first period that the now infamous moment took place. Paul Gascoigne was booked, and would therefore miss the final if England made it through. Gazza was just 23 years old and couldn’t contain his emotion. He couldn’t hold back the tears on the pitch, but in the end it was the Germans who went through after a tense penalty shootout.
After that World Cup exit, you won’t need me to tell you that there were a series of disappointments on the big stage for England. They had disappointed at Major tournament after major tournament and some fans had lost all hope.
But now England are in the World Cup semi-finals again, for the first time in 28 years.
Gareth Southgate has achieved what Hoddle, Erikson, Capello, Hodgson and McClaren couldn’t despite only having three years of top-flight experience under his belt. His leadership and attitude has helped the team stay composed and focused which is hugely important in a knockout tournament. After beating Tunisia and Panama, Southgate knew they were through so fielded a much-changed side against Belgium. They knew a defeat would give them a more favourable route to the final, and that meant there was no pressure to win the game.
In the end Belgium won which left England with Colombia in the last 16. Colombia knew their gameplan and were tough with England, It was a busy night for the referee and even though England looked in control, an injury-time equaliser from Colombia took the game to extra time and penalties. England had never won a World Cup shootout, but Southgate told his players to concentrate on what they had been working on in training, and after another dramatic shootout the result came this time, thanks in part to a great save from Jordan Pickford who has been a star man for England.
Next up it was Sweden, who had knocked out Italy and the Netherlands to get to the finals, and then made it out of a group with Germany, Mexico and South Korea. On paper England were stronger but Sweden are no pushover and shouldn’t be underestimated, as you can see by their record. Sweden played deep but Harry Maguire broke the deadlock and Dele Alli made it 2-0 after half-time. It was around that point that England fans started to believe they could really go all the way.
Now they’re in the final four and Croatia stand between them and their first final since ’66. This will be the toughest test so far as Croatia line-up with the likes of Modric, Rakitic and Mandzukic, but England will know their game plan and they have the quality, especially in from set pieces, to grab a goal even in the tightest of games. Harry Kane is also chasing the Golden Boot and will be desperate to get on the scoresheet.
England can only be beaten by a tactical mistake because that’s what it’s coming down to. Croatia is as worried about England’s quality and both coaches will have to be their best. They will be thinking about different scenarios – how do I set up my team? What do I do if I go down a goal or up?
For me, the best way for England to approach the game would be to stick to how they have been playing and respect the opponent. It will kill Croatia’s momentum if they do. The four teams left in the tournament got this far because they play and work like a team with one objective: to bring the dream home.
Do I think England can win it? Of course they can!