England won over a ton of the haters and indifferent onlookers at the 2018 World Cup, as the Three (young) Lions made their unlikely run to the semifinals of the tournament in Russia.
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Gareth Southgate, who guided the squad with an average age of 25.6 years old, isn’t letting the feel-good factor, or the respectable accomplishments of the last month, cloud his vision, though. “Against the very best teams, we’ve come up short,” he said following Saturday’s defeat to Belgium in the third-place game. There is much work still to be done, if the current generation, which might just find itself dubbed a golden generation over the next few years, is to reach its potential — quotes from the Guardian:
“We are very realistic about the level we are. We’ve had a lot of praise, which has been nice, but also balanced with that a lot of reality as well. We don’t kid ourselves at all. We know exactly the areas where we hope to get better. We’re not in club football where we have a checkbook to buy new players. We have to coach and develop, and the players need a willingness to learn and improve, and they’ve shown that in the last seven weeks in particular. That continues, but we leave here having progressed a lot.
“It’s nice to reach a semi-final because that builds belief and gives momentum to the team. There’s some evidence that they can have success, and they can feel that and commit to the England shirt. But we need to keep improving.”
“We’ve finished in the final four, but we’re not a top-four team yet. Against the very best teams, we’ve come up short. But we’ve had a wonderful adventure and some experiences which will stand this group of players and staff in good stead for the future. We have to try to constantly evolve and improve. We’ve done that, particularly over the last eight months, and we’ve ended up having a brilliant adventure here.
“Every member of our party, players and staff, has enjoyed it immensely. That’s what we keep having to do: review how we play, how might we improve, what we can get better at. That’s what we will do.”
Despite the momentum and support England managed to create over the last four weeks, the fact that their tournament finished with back-to-back defeats could prove something of a blessing in disguise for Southgate and his coaching staff. A squad as young and ambitious as this one will only return hungrier, and with a chip on its shoulder, when they reconvene in September for UEFA Nations League action.