At the end of it all, Gareth Southgate embraced his assistant Steve Holland. Then, quite deliberately, he sought out each and every member of his back-room staff and gave them the same celebratory greeting, one by one. It took some time, so many are involved in this World Cup campaign.
Only then did he find his way on to the pitch where Jesse Lingard, John Stones and Kyle Walker were dancing a daft jig in front of the England fans. Just that moment was telling; players from rival Manchester clubs usually locked in parochial combat, as comrades in arms.At the end of it all, Gareth Southgate embraced his assistant Steve Holland. Then, quite deliberately, he sought out each and every member
Then it was Southgate’s turn to take the limelight. He strode towards the fans, clenched his fists tight and let out a guttural roar as he acknowledged the scale of his achievement.
It didn’t have anything like he drama of the Colombian shoot-out. The football was nothing like the quality presented by Brazil and Belgium. But make no mistake: in the Samara Arena by the River Volga in a far-flung corner of Russia and two thousands miles from home, an England team made history.
A collection of players to whom few gave any serious consideration as contenders when they left home last month, will contest a World Cup semi final on Wednesday night in Moscow.
It will be only the third time Englishmen have done so since the Football Association deigned to appear at this tournament in 1950. A young team which seemed devoid of real ego or heavyweight stars a month ago go down as one of England’s best, surpassing a golden generation which could never make this step.
Southgate, a deceptively determined man who was parachuted into this job amidst chaos twenty-two months ago, will join Sir Bobby Robson and Sir Alf Ramsey as the only managers of the men’s team to guide his players to this stage of the World Cup .
He considered that fact last night and conceded that it is difficult to place in perspective. ‘It is a privilege,’ was the best he could muster. What is truly enticing is the prospect that he might go one better than Sir Bobby, a man who would counsel him twelve years ago when he was struggling to find his feet at Middlesbrough manager. He has come a long way since then.
Last night he was fielding complimentary questions from Brazilian journalists about the revolution he has overseen in English football and queries from the Chinese about how the national team now matched the quality of the Premier League.
His team has travelled far too. ‘I sat them down 18 months ago and explained to them that any success they have with England would be much bigger than anything they could have with their clubs.’ He allowed himself a wry smile. ‘I think that is starting to register now. Maybe I am telling the truth. Most of the time.’
And Harry Maguire is a secret no more. The world is awake to his talents, which go far beyond his headed goal. ‘He’s getting his bonce on everything,’ smiled Southgate, causing the FIFA translators to scramble for an English dictionary of slang words. ‘He’s been a giant in both boxes. I was certain this was a stage he could play at. I’m not sure he’s always believed that. I remember saying to him after he made his debut last year: “Okay, why don’t we try and be as good as we might be now?” His use of the ball has been as good as any centre half here.’
Jordan Henderson controlled midfield and Raheem Sterling buzzed with creative energy: if only that goal would come. But there was another, familiar hero. Jordan Pickford, who made his England debut in November, has grown, figuratively if not literally in this tournament and his riposte to questions about his height has been perfectly timed.
Sweden were extraordinarily limited and initially unambitious. Yet it still took three wonderful saves from Pickford to get England over the line. That the game was devoid of tension by the end, was down to the goalkeeper.
Though Sweden were poor, they are a team that has disposed of Holland and Italy in qualifying and who got rid of Germany from the group stages. Less fortunate England managers have been photo-shopped into turnips by Swedes before now so the fact that this team made light work of this fixture was a testament to their resolve.
Source: Daily Mail