2018 in review: How far have England progressed?

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2018 IN REVIEW: HOW FAR HAVE ENGLAND PROGRESSED?

Sunday’s 2-1 victory over Croatia has called time on what has been an incredible calendar year for Gareth Southgate and England. Not too many people expected it in January, but 2018 has become the best year for the England national team since 1996.

Pride in the badge has been restored and there is now a real desire to watch this team play once again.

There is reason for excitement, with there being a glut of exciting young players coming through the ranks combined with a manager that is willing to give them the opportunity to show what they can do. This England side are beginning to play with a confidence and bravery that has ultimately been missing in recent times.

So often players play within themselves in an England shirt, often shirking responsibility and choosing the safe option to avoid the potential scrutiny that can come their way. However, at 1-0 down to Croatia at Wembley on Sunday the team continued to play patiently and waited for their openings to arrive.

Harry Kane England

FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE

We are starting to see players play as well, if not better for England as they are for their club sides, which was often missing during the times of the Golden Generation. Harry Kane’s winner on Sunday afternoon was the 20th goal he has scored for his country in just 35 caps and, barring injury, looks well on his way to hunting down Wayne Rooney’s record.

Jesse Lingard came from the bench to score yesterday and the Manchester United man has been one of the key members of Southgate’s side in 2018, scoring four goals in 14 appearances. Marcus Rashford and Raheem Sterling were outstanding in the recent victory over Spain and that certainly bodes well for 2019 and beyond.

Jordan Henderson finally received a level of appreciation during the World Cup, while John Stones and Harry Maguire formed a formidable partnership in Russia, becoming real fan favourites in the process. The likability factor of this England team has made them all the more popular amongst the nation.

However, such is the way of the English press and the often fickle nature of the supporters mean it will only last so long as results are forthcoming. Yet under this management, with the talent within the squad and current confidence that is spiraling through the team it could well continue into 2019.

Perhaps one of the most telling barometers of the current interest in this England side was the atmosphere at Wembley yesterday afternoon. Despite the Nations League lacking barely a level of prestige above a standard World Cup qualifier at this point, supporters really bought into the game and made a level of noise that is so rarely present at England internationals.

Southgate and his team have as well, with the England manager keen to keep the momentum rolling from the World Cup. Even since then it appears as if the team have improved.

England World Cup

BUILDING ON THE WORLD CUP

For all of the success that came in Russia, it’s easy to forget that England only defeated Tunisia, Panama, Colombia and Sweden in reaching the semi-finals. They faced two top sides in the competition in Belgium and Croatia and lost each meeting, twice falling to the former and lost to Sunday’s opponents in the semi-finals of the tournament.

Since then, England have beaten Spain away from home and took four points from two meetings with Croatia. Beating these sides in the Nations League is an important step forward, but the challenge now comes in trying to beat them when it really matters at World Cups and European Championships.

Everything Southgate and his team do over the next 18 months or so should be building towards Euro 2020 and winning within a ‘competitive’ environment in the Nations League will only be a positive experience for them to take with them.

There was real scepticism when Southgate was originally appointed as manager and even the most optimistic of supporters won’t have anticipated that he would have made such a broad change in such a short space of time. The future of the England team certainly looks bright and there are plenty of reasons to feel excited about what 2019 and beyond holds for this group of players.

Gareth Southgate England
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