Bollocks. It just wasn’t meant to be. Much as we wanted to believe this particular England team could go all the way, they just weren’t quite good enough. There’s no shame in that, of course. This young group of players were given no chance a few weeks ago. But I can’t deny they were second best on the night and we can have few complaints. Well played Croatia. You utter bastards 🙂

Much as I find this current group of players quite likeable, however, I am a bit confused by the national mood. Everyone seems really proud of what we’ve achieved. I don’t quite feel the same way though. In fact I have very mixed feelings. On the one hand it was a brilliant ride, and I think Southgate has put some solid foundations in place for future success. On the other hand we got outplayed by Croatia, a country with a population of just 4 million. That’s smaller than Scotland.

I guess it all comes down to expectations. If you expected England to crash and burn horribly then you’ll be delighted we reached the semis. However, I always expected us to qualify from the group, and when the draw opened up generously (to say the least) I was genuinely hopeful we’d reach the final. A country with England’s wealth and talent pool should be able to beat Colombia, Sweden, and Croatia. In years to come we’ll see this World Cup as a huge opportunity missed. That’s what hurts the most.

I also find it a tad surreal that this team are being treated like heroes. There’s no middle-ground in English football. The teams we send to major finals either make the nation proud (1990, 1996, 2018) or get treated like a national disgrace (pretty much every other year). Isn’t the truth somewhere in between? In my opinion the current team did quite well but no more and no less. Our sporting press and all the supporters seem a bit too emotional and a tad fickle in my humble opinion.

I know there has been talk about exceeding expectations but an argument could be made that this team simply lived up to their world ranking. England are currently 12th in the FIFA table. In this world cup we beat Tunisia (ranked 21st), Panama (55th), and Sweden (24th). We essentially drew with Colombia (16th) and lost to Croatia (20th). It’s a bit irrelevant but Belgium are ranked 3rd for what that’s worth.

Overall, therefore, I feel we needed a bit of a reality check. We all bought into the dream that football was coming home. But in reality all that came home were chickens … to roost. Typically we all got carried away with the hype. Will we never learn? There’s much to admire about our team but they never seriously looked like champions.

England have proved they’re a good team, and that makes a lovely refreshing change, but there’s still substantial room for improvement – especially when one considers the wealth of the premier league and the place football holds in the national consciousness. Cricket would kill for a ounce of the coverage that football gets.

And I guess that’s why, despite getting so close to our first appearance in a world cup final since 1966, that I’m merely disappointed rather than devastated today. When we lost on penalties in 1990 and 1996 I felt like I’d been kicked in the crotch. It took me three or four days to get over it. I was so despondent because I felt we deserved to win those games and were good enough to win the whole tournament. Sadly I don’t think I can say the same about the current squad. The truth is that although Southgate’s team has done well they’re not a champion team … at least not yet.

I also feel less than distraught because this team’s best days are clearly ahead of them. This feels like the beginning not an end. Southgate has created a really solid platform we can build upon. If he can integrate some of our world cup winning youth players over the next few years then we should be formidable by 2022.

What’s more, although I don’t think the current team has many real stars (I thought Kane was very disappointing last night), I do think several of the XI have the potential to become world class in time. Although John Stones was to blame for Croatia’s winner, he has grown in stature this month and might develop into one hell of a player. Ditto Harry Maguire. I also love the look of Marcus Rashford. And if you don’t love everything about Jordan Pickford then you’re dead inside.

Perhaps it’s this sense of optimism that explains the nation’s pride today? Although this team didn’t kill any giants, and frequently struggled to score from open play, one can’t deny its more intangible achievements – particularly the way they’ve brought the country together for a few glorious hours.

Our country has been so divided recently. Our politics is a shit-storm, with a government and opposition that are clearly riddled with divisions and huge ideological differences. The future looks very uncertain – not because the UK isn’t a fantastic country but because the divisions run so deep over Brexit, the future of liberal capitalism, and Corbyn’s socialist alternative. There’s seems little middle-ground here either I’m afraid.

So what did England’s football team achieve? Not a hell of a lot in pure football terms. They had the match by the scruff of the neck last night but couldn’t manage the game and ultimately fell apart. However, they did make the nation forget about its broader problems for a moment. And they temporarily united people who have been clawing each other’s eyes out for the last couple of years.

Come to think of it. That’s one hell of an achievement.

James Morgan