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England’s World Cup exit hurts. That is Gareth Southgate’s greatest legacy

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If there’s a silver lining, it’s that this hurts. I didn’t have to. There was a time when he wouldn’t have, in the not too distant past. England are out of a major tournament again, as they were 12 years ago, when performances had not lived up to expectations; as they were eight years ago when they finished last in their group; as they were six years ago when possibly the most embarrassing loss in their history cemented a sense of apathy around this team.

But this time, instead, England is out and it hurts, as it hurt last summer and some summers before that too. And if this World Cup quarter-final loss to France draws fresh criticism of the person who is primarily responsible for that shift in energy and sentiment in England, if perhaps it leads Gareth Southgate to wonder if it’s all worth it. together and considers ending his six years in charge, then the fact that this hurts again will be his greatest legacy.

Ask anyone what they expected from this matchup of the two best remaining teams in this tournament and you’ll get the same answer: a game fought on the edges, won on the fringes, and if it comes down to it, the world champions can just over the edge. That was ultimately how the result came about, but it wasn’t the pattern of the game or how Southgate and his players will remember his performance. But of course, this was always going to require something different, something that they have not achieved in the last 56 years.

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With all due respect, Paraguay, Belgium, Cameroon, Denmark, Ecuador, Colombia, Sweden and Senegal are not the current world champions. Neither of those sides, at the corresponding time, were considered contenders either. To reach a second successive World Cup semi-final, England would have to overcome a truly elite team in the knockout stages of this tournament for the first time since 1966. The black and white of the record books will show they were not prepared for write a little story line.

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That will be a huge disappointment for Southgate and their players because, strangely, from the moment they fell behind, they felt like the likely winners.

It’s a position England have almost never found themselves in under Southgate. They’re usually on the other side of the coin: forward, protecting a slim lead in a hard-fought tie at a major tournament, trying to keep their toes dry while trapped between the harbor wall and the tide. That was what went wrong against Italy, that was what went wrong against Croatia. However, this was a different task. They are not used to falling behind and chasing parity.

Before Aurelien Tchouameni’s goal, they had conceded the first goal in the round of 16 of a major tournament under Southgate’s management only once: Denmark, in the semi-finals of last year’s European Championship. Southgate assistant Steve Holland this week recalled the nine minutes between Mikkel Damsgaard’s free-kick and Simon Kjaer’s equalizing own goal as a key moment in his six-year tenure.

“From a management perspective and on the bench, we have lived through these moments now,” he said. “It makes us stronger. It gives you that feeling of familiarity and when it happens in the game, it’s really ‘we’ve been here before, this can happen, we know what to do, we need to stay calm.’ I feel like we’re as prepared and experienced now as we’ve ever been to handle those moments.”

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If you’re looking for a tangible difference from the wretched days of yore, something Southgate and his staff have really improved on, and if for some reason reaching the late stages of major tournaments isn’t enough for you, then look back. the 36 Minutes between Tchouameni scored and Kane equalized from the penalty spot. It wasn’t exactly Brazil 1970. It was still the England of the Southgate era. But all the positives of this era: the resilience, the organization, the refusal to panic under pressure.

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Even after Kane’s penalty was leveled, England remained the protagonists of the match, persisting in playing on their front foot. Southgate’s biggest weakness, a reluctance and perhaps inability to affect events from the touchline, was written off for acting. England were the better and more proactive side. There was no reason to fix something that wasn’t broken. In a match that was always likely to be won by moments, England had most of them.

Southgate’s England suffered another painful exit from the tournament but this was not like the others


However, if you fail to defend a cross correctly, you may be punished. So if your best scoring chances are penalties and you rely on a player who has already missed twice this season, there’s a good chance he won’t convert at least one of his two. Those were the margins by which these quarterfinals were always likely to be decided. England fell on the wrong side of them. In doing so, they lost a chance to overcome a beatable France, advance to a winnable semi-final, and who knows from then on.

There will inevitably be questions about Southgate and what’s next. There always has been, even after unquestionably successful tournaments, and this World Cup campaign certainly falls short of that mark. But those questions really only have one answer. The other 12 men who succeeded Sir Alf Ramsey from 1966 achieved six victories in tournament knockout matches between them. Southgate has equaled that record alone. That should be enough to answer the most incessant and unreasonable criticism.

Southgate’s record is now one semi-final, one final, one quarter-final. Take a friendly draw here, take a meeting with the world champions in the quarterfinals there. Whichever way you look at it, it’s much better than what came before. If England had had some advantages at Al Khor, it could have looked even better. But still, this hurts.

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