Bengaluru: The floodgates have opened, and Gareth Southgate’s record-breaking Three Lions are hungrier than ever!
There are a number of mysteries that remain unsolved in the 21st century — the disappearance of MH370, the Bermuda Triangle, and so on. But, in a sporting context, perhaps one of the greatest mysteries can be found awaiting an answer in England — how an all-star ensemble consisting of Steven Gerrard, Wayne Rooney, Frank Lampard, David Beckham and a host of other household English football names — never made it past a quarter-final in the World Cup.
England’s all-time record goal-scorer Wayne Rooney’s retirement from the international circuit in 2017 ultimately personified the changing of the old guard. Rooney’s armband was then poetically passed on to Harry Kane before the World Cup — who, in all fairness, is perhaps England’s finest goal poacher since Alan Shearer.
While Kane has rightly stolen the headlines with his record-breaking start to the tournament (scoring five goals in the two opening matches), there is another figure that the English must laud for their spirited performances — Gareth Southgate. What the Englishman has done to this team is simple to understand but problematic to execute. Southgate has challenged the long-standing norm of English football’s physical approach by putting emphasis on methods such as playing the ball out of defence, playing a ‘pass-and-move’ style of attacking football and playing fearlessly — as supposed to hoofing the ball up to the burly English centre-forward and sitting in blocks of four in their own half.
England’s new risky approach is signified most of all by the manager’s choices in midfield at the World Cup. An effervescent duo of Jesse Lingard and Dele Alli shielded by Jordan Henderson is far more effective than what Southgate’s predecessor had chosen for his last game in charge — an ageing Wayne Rooney and Eric Dier behind Alli.
Tactical talks aside, there is something else that Southgate has brought to this team — a certain unity, togetherness and desire to win matches by throwing everything they have at the opposition — rather than the clash of the egos that was prevalent during the Golden Generation.
On Thursday night, when an England side without the likes of Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling faced their first defeat of the campaign against Belgium — a 1-0 defeat decided by Belgium’s Adnan Januzaj — the lineups, the style of play and the tactical nous mattered little as they were already guaranteed to go through to the next phase.
The knockout fixture against Colombia come Tuesday, though, will be the first real test of England.