Why England fans should be optimistic for the future

England World Cup 2018

England's World Cup dream may be over, but an exciting new dawn is on the horizon

On Wednesday night the nation held it's breath, with England involved in their first World Cup semi-final since 1990. Gareth Southgate's men came into the tournament written off, underrated and with little expectations from the media or supporters, but now they're regarded by many as national heroes. Making the last four of the World Cup is a massive achievement and unfortunately that's where our exploits in Russia ended, following an agonising 2-1 defeat to Croatia after extra time.

It was another game of ifs, buts and maybes but ultimately England came up short against a technically gifted Croatian side and whilst the pain right now really hurts - and it will for some time - there's reasons to be positive for the future. This young Three Lions team has shown so much determination, togetherness and fight - something which we haven't seen on the international stage for so long - and in turn it's won over the hearts of the country.

This is a completely different side to the one that was humiliated by Iceland at Euro 2016 and the one that finished rock bottom of the group at the 2014 World Cup, this is a side full of character, personality and youthful exuberance, a side that's made us proud to support our nation and more importantly, brought everyone together. Football has united the nation and there's so many reasons to be positive about what the future could bring.

This very much feels like the end of an adventure right now but we genuinely believe that this is just the beginning, so read below to hear our thoughts on why we should all be feeling optimistic about the Three Lions.

England finally have an identity

For years there's been chaos and uncertainty surrounding the England team both on and off the pitch which hasn't aided our cause whatsoever at major tournaments. The last few England managers haven't had a set philosophy or playing style, regularly changing formations and systems in our warm-up friendlies and at tournaments. But under Gareth Southgate we now have an identity, we have a set system which gets results from our top players playing their preferred position. Not like the old days when we'd try accommodate our embarrassment of riches into one side, putting square pegs in round holes.

Southgate isn't blessed with the strength in depth that his predecessors have had, but boy has he found a way of getting the best out of the current crop of English talent. The 3-5-2 system that the Three Lions adopt is something that's been implemented for some time now and it makes us a threat in attack, along with adding extra solidity in defence. Moving away from the rigid 4-4-2 and 4-2-3-1 formations has been a masterstroke by Southgate and it's allowed some new heroes to flourish.

England World Cup
Gareth Southgate's philosophy has resulted in some memorable moments in Russia that will live on forever

The likes of Jordan Pickford, Kieran Trippier, Harry Maguire, John Stones and Harry Kane all leave Russia with their reputations massively enhanced and their lives could change forever when they get back after becoming national heroes. England used to be accused of being a 'kick and run' side, but Southgate's philosophy sees us play out from the back with confidence and build attacks with attractive, possession based football. It means sometimes taking risks, but when utilised efficiently it's so dificult to play against and that's something that's been evident this summer.

The way our centre halves bring the ball out from the back gives us another dimension when building attacks and it also gives our talented full backs the chance to bomb on. Kieran Trippier has been an absolute revelation this summer and he's one of the biggest beneficiaries of this change of system.

It's a young England side and they've impressed, with Rio Ferdinand saying on ITV post match last night that several former top players at the Croatia game were claiming that the Three Lions are great to watch, good on the ball and have a clear identity - something which we've lacked in years gone by.

From yes man to national treasure

It's now been 2 years since Gareth Southgate was appointed as England head coach and it's pretty fair to say that his approval rating has changed slightly. When he was first brought in many saw him as a 'yes man' for The FA and were worried about what direction he was going to take us, especially with his last experience of senior management coming back in 2009 when he was sacked by Middlesbrough. But now at the end of our adventure in Russia he's going to come home regarded as something of a national treasure.

Southgate's passion, charisma, tactical nouse and waistcoat has made him a real fans favourite and one of the characters of the 2018 World Cup, a far cry from the figure he was portrayed to be when he was first announced. The 47 year-old's three year spell in the England set up managing the U21's has given him plenty of experience of what it's like managing a national side and it's resulted in our best finish since Italia 90. Southgate is a figure that the players can turn to, have confidence in and it's the same for us as fans, he's really warmed to both the travelling supporters and the ones back home - with their rendition of Atomic Kitten's 'Whole Again' to 'Footballs Coming Home Again' the anthem of the summer!

Gareth Southgate England
Gareth Southgate's sheer passion and desire has made him an absolute hit with fans up and down the country - with his waistcoat also now one of this summers now must have fashion accessories.

He's experienced heartache as a player after that infamous penalty miss back in Euro 96 so he knows all about the highs and lows of playing for the Three Lions, making him the perfect man for the job as manager. The way he's inspired his side over the course of the tournament deserves an enormous amount of credit and one thing that will particularly please him is the penalty win over Colombia in the last sixteen - a result which really banished some ghosts from the past and wrote history in the process.

Southgate has a fantastic relationship with the players and great knowledge of the youngsters coming through, so with him at the helm there's plenty of reasons to be excited for the future.

A nation united, pride restored

As football fans we all absolutely love the domestic game, with the Premier League and Football League always full of drama and entertainment on a weekly basis. We love mocking each other when rivals lose and the banter that goes along with it, but when England are in action it's different. Rivalries are forgotten, people come together and we're all cheering on the same team. It's a strange feeling but when things are going well it's a brilliant one and over the course of the last 3 weeks it's been amazing.

Going into the tournament we all had low expectations of what the Three Lions could achieve so making the semi-finals is quite staggering. But in typical England tradition we did it the hard way, with last minute winners, late disappointment and an actual penalty shootout victory doing our hearts no favours whatsoever.

There's been some incredible highs following the boys this summer and they've provided us with moments that will stay for us forever. Whether you've been watching the lads in Russia, on TV or at the pub, there's no better feeling than celebrating those feelings with your mates and there's been some crackers. The last minute winner from Kane v Tunisia, the 6-1 thrashing of Panama or that incredible penalty shootout win over Colombia - The Three Lions have certainly delivered drama in bucketloads.

Southgate England Fans
The nation has united behind Gareth Southgate and the England team - something that seemed unthinkable after Euro 2016

England is now back on the map as a major footballing power and our rivals will take serious note of how we've performed in Russia and how our youngsters are doing. Over the last few years there's been some serious distance between the fans and the team, but Southgate and players deserve enormous credit for bridging that gap and re-uniting the nation again. For some time now fans have greeted international breaks or World Cups with disappointment, waiting for 'typical England' or 'boring England' performances but now that appears to be a thing of the past.

The future looks bright

Southgate's time spent in the U21's allowed him to unearth plenty of new exciting talent and it's something that he's brought through into the senior team. The likes of Jordan Pickford, John Stones, Jesse Lingard and Ruben Loftus-Cheek have been successfully integrated into the first team set up from the U21's and they've all seen their stock rise incredibly in Russia. This is just the beginning of many of their England careers and the experience of making a World Cup semi-final could prove to be invaluable to their development.

But it's not just the current 23 man squad who have reasons to be excited for the future, the next batch of young English talent looks very promising on paper. The youth set-up has been excelling over the last 12 months, with the U17's (winning U17 2017 World Cup), U19's (winning U19 Euro 2017), U20's (winning U20 2017 World Cup) and U21's (2018 Toulon Tournament winners) all performing incredibly. There's some serious talent waiting in the wings to make it into the first team fold and come Euro 2020 or Qatar 2022, we could see some of these stars bedded into the senior side.

England World Cup
England's young side wrote history in the last 16, winning their first ever penalty shootout against Colombia - banishing the ghosts that have haunted us for so long

The likes of Phil Foden, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Jadon Sancho and Ryan Sessegnon are already impressing for their club sides and we're bound to see Southgate easing them into the first team picture in the near future. Times are incredibly exciting for England fans and after seeing what we're capable of in Russia and the talent coming through, reaching semi-finals of major tournaments could become a much more regular thing.

Moving forward

It's been some adventure for the boys in Russia. Their run to the semi-finals has been full of twists & turns, drama, excitement, anguish, ecstasy & we still have the chance to write more history. A win over Belgium in Saturday's third place play-off will see us record our best ever finish at the World Cup Finals since winning it in 1966 so there's still a bit of work for Gareth and the boys to do. They'll be desperate to bow out on a high and give the fans something else to shout about.

We've shared so many emotions with the lads over the last 3 weeks and despite it not coming home, we can only thank them and Gareth for all the joy that they've provided us this summer. There's some great memories, celebrations and moments that will stay with us as fans forever and for the players, this can be the catalyst for great things. Euro 2020 seems far away right now but we have the makings of a very good side and with Southgate at the helm, the future looks incredibly bright.

England World Cup 2018
It's been a rollercoaster ride for everyone involved - thank you England.