The time has come, Wednesday evening will welcome a moment many didn’t think would come for a while yet but believe it or not, England are in their first semi-final for 28 years and have the chance to reach only their second final in the World Cup.
With the pain of the defeat to Germany in 1990 only just being erased from many peoples memory, Southgate’s side will face Croatia in Moscow for a chance to play France in Sunday’s final. Without doubt, there is a different feel with this squad and a feeling of prosperity and hopefulness. If England do make it to the final there are certain players who will be vital to their results and 90MAAT has taken a closer look at these individuals below.
Four months ago, the constant debate in the lead up to Russia was the goalkeeper dispute and whether Pickford, Butland or Pope would be the man chosen as England’s number one. Nick Pope had a tremendous season as Burnley shot-stopper and Jack Butland was the most experienced keeper of the trio. Yet with Butland having only eight caps to his name there was a chance for Jordan Pickford to be selected above the aforementioned due to his previous England experience and due to his strong position as Everton number one.
After a class performance against the Swedes the Everton man has clearly shown he could be pivotal in our Semi-Final fixture and he could pave England’s way to a World Cup final, for the first time since 1966. The 24-year-old, who was playing for Carlisle United only four years ago, made a crucial save from a Carlos Bacca penalty against Columbia in the last 16 to give Eric Dier the chance for England to win a first World Cup penalty shoot-out which he duly undertook.
The Sunderland born keeper made three vital saves against the Swedes and three saves which at any level would be classed as World Class. There is no doubt that England’s number one will be essential against Croatia and if the Three Lions are to advance to the World Cup final the man between the sticks will be called upon many times for sure.
England’s number 6 highlights what the Three Lions are about. The Leicester City centre back shows guts, he shows passion and most of all he shows determination. After the confirmation of the Sheffield born defender being selected in Southgate’s 23-man squad, a photo appeared of the centre back in France watching his International colleagues at the Euros of 2016.
It is fair to say that Maguire has inspired them to reach further then the Euro’s and he will motivate them to reach even further and represent their country in a World Cup final for the first time in 52 years. Similar to Pickford; before the World Cup the defender, who was representing Hull FC around three years ago, was subject to similar selection dilemmas with the choice of Gary Cahill who performed extremely well in a pre-tournament friendly presenting a possible choice for Southgate.
Due to his greater experience, the Chelsea stars presence amongst a highly inexperienced side could have been preferred. Yet the manager stuck with Maguire and after a nervous beginning against Tunisia this may have been the right call but with Maguire he stood and Southgate has not looked back since. After his deserving goal vs Sweden he has gained many plaudits with his harassing and demanding style in the area during corners and other set pieces, alongside this his confidence in himself as a defender and moving forward with the ball is an admirable characteristic which would be many managers dream.
It’s clear that the Three Lions have had a heavy focus on set pieces in training sessions during and leading up to the tournament and it is clear that Maguire has taken a proactive position in this training. He has probably been on the end of 50% of England’s free kicks and corners, he assisted Kane for the last-minute goal against Tunisia and provided the opener against Sweden and its without consideration in saying that Croatia will be threatened by the defender in the semi-finals and I’m confident in saying that if he gets a chance he will most likely (hopefully) slot the ball home.
The defensive set up used from Southgate has been the biggest transformational change in this team and it’s a set-up which has been effective, professional and which is constantly learning and Maguire alongside Stones and Walker will be paramount in the upcoming fixture vs Croatia.
The Liverpool captain receives a lot of criticism for his performances for the Three Lions. Yet with this being said, his importance to the squad should not be taken for granted. A lot of frustration which comes Henderson’s way is his decisions of constant happiness to play possession behind him and although this can be an anger to many fans, this ability to stick with the ball and play backwards as well as forward should be accepted and should be looked upon as an ability which many players lack.
Many people reading this article will probably agree that he is certainly in the top three consistent performers this World Cup and it can’t be argued that his presence within the team will ease everybody. Thankfully the Liverpool captain’s penalty miss vs Columbia was not crucifying to the national side but if he was called upon again to step up I’d be sure he would make the walk once more. Like the manager, Henderson displays a lot of patriotism on the field of play and will fight for all of his teammates whatever the situation. He displays many leadership qualities which in the second youngest squad of the tournament is paramount and these leadership qualities are shown on the pitch too.
Not much more needs to be said about Harry Kane. The England captain is the man to follow. Having already six goals to his name; he is on course to win the World Cup golden boot which has only ever been achieved by one English star back in the 1986 World Cup in Mexico. If he was to be named the second English man alongside Gary Lineker to win the prize, his legendary status on the international scene would almost be confirmed in his first World Cup.
His willingness to drop deep and pick up play is exactly what is needed for Southgate’s men. There is no doubt that he is the one of the most talented strikers on the world stage and a semi-final fixture against Croatia gives him the chance to show this. A striker who scores goals is fundamental to England’s passage to the final and a memorable performance against Croatia could put him down in the memory book, not only with England fans but the whole world alike.
As well as his ability in open play, his skill and confidence taking a penalty kick is a huge bonus for Southgate’s men. With two penalties vs Panama as well as a spot-kick against Columbia in normal time and also penalties, the Spurs man has scored four spot-kicks this World Cup and this could be vital if any game does advance to extra-time and penalties. The captain certainly leads from the front and if he is to be lifting the cup come Sunday 15th, England’s number 9 will play a huge part in their passage.
Written by Eamon Kitching.