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"Southgate, you're the one" - Raucous Wembley a tribute to the new England

FEATURED COLUMNIST
Feature
490   //    19 Nov 2018, 12:54 IST

Gareth Southgate's England have another chance of winning silverware next summer
Gareth Southgate's England have another chance of winning silverware next summer

Did you hear Wembley on Sunday? Has it ever been like that in recent memory? The answer to that has got to be a resounding no.

What is this transformation? How has it happened? Why is it happening?

It's down to one man - a man whose image has gone from just being famous for sporting a waistcoat to a man who's forging a new England, an England that cares about the three lions they sport on their chest.

Gareth Southgate has had his fair share of detractors over the course of this year, but none of them can say a word about the 2018 that he has overseen for the English national team.

On the face of it, how can you? He's taken his team to a World Cup semifinal, England beat Spain in Spain for the first time in 31 years, and they won their UEFA Nations League group which consisted of Spain and Croatia.

This is really a new England. England teams of yore - the Golden Generation that is much spoken about could not lay claim to a Wembley afternoon or night like the one against Croatia on Sunday.

England played so well in the first half, they had chances aplenty and that it was 0-0 at half-time was only a reflection of their profligacy and not of how well they played.

Raheem Sterling and Marcus Rashford were tormenting Tin Jedvaj and Antonio Milic on the sides. Harry Kane was keeping Domagoj Vida and Dejan Lovren occupied. But somehow, England could not find a way to go through Lovre Kalinic and his immense 6' 7" frame in the Croatian goal.

And then England went down to Andrej Kramaric's goal, and it looked like one of those all-too-familiar big occasions at Wembley for England. But that was for the old England, at a Wembley that had not yet been revitalised by the positivity brought through on-field performances.

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Not for one moment last night did Wembley fall flat. The most wonderfully passionate Croatian supporters were making themselves heard, as they always do, but Wembley wasn't going to bow down to them.

Instead, Wembley got behind its boys. The manager responded. He threw on young Jadon Sancho, the wonderfully spirited Jesse Lingard and an ace in Dele Alli - three young men who symbolise the new England, where reputations carry scant regard.

Lingard and Alli both were starters at the World Cup not so long ago. Here, they'd been taken over by Ross Barkley and Fabian Delph. But there was no time to brood over that, there was a game to win.

"The most pleasing thing of all for me is the connection with the fans, because I've not heard Wembley like that for years. We've given our supporters some memorable days and nights this year, and we want to continue that and build on that because the energy that came back to the team in those difficult moments helped us get over the line today." - Gareth Southgate

For all the talk of a new England, they scored goals like the England of Hodgson and Allardyce would many-a-time. Joe Gomez flung a throw from the right side with all his might. Croatia dallied and let it pinball in their six-yard box. Kane pounced, got a few lucky deflections, the ball fell to Lingard and he had a tap-in from an inch out.

Could you hear Wembley when that went in?! What have you done, Gareth?!

There really was a backs-to-the-wall job ahead of Croatia. England believed, and most importantly, Wembley believed!

A festive Wembley was witness to England's pluck, grit and determination
A festive Wembley was witness to England's pluck, grit and determination

And then what? And then a set-piece! Oh, the new England. Almost like the old England. Ben Chilwell put the ball in a testing area, Lovren lost his man, Kane just flung out a right boot, the ball nestled in the bottom corner. England had turned relegation into qualification and now had precious few minutes to hold on for dear life.

They held on, they will go to Portugal next summer. They will go to Portugal with a big chance at bringing home silverware. This little European league may not be what England fans had in mind when they sang of football coming home all through the summer, but oh my, what they would not give to see Southgate's men bring home silverware from Iberia next summer!

The World Cup draw was kind to them, but they didn't slip up like other England sides in recent memory have done. They made a World Cup semifinal and nobody can take that away from them.

They have now dumped Spain and Croatia out of what was supposed to be a group in which they got relegated. Still talking about kind draws now?

This really is a new England. They might play like the old England at times, they might make you tear your hair out - just as the old England did. But this is different, this feels like the brewing of something special.

Whether Southgate is the one yet is up for debate, but one thing's for sure. He's turned them all on.

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FEATURED COLUMNIST
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