England's Russia 2018 run brought disappointment, but hope for the future is that this young team can achieve great things in the years ahead.

    Football may not quite have come home, but as the England team does, they can do so in the knowledge that aside written off before a ball was kicked are now national heroes.

    Such has been the transformation in perception of the team over the course of a month when Gareth Southgate's young squad outperformed much-fancied sides like Brazil, Germany and Spain to achieve what was England's joint-second best performance at a World Cup.

    The positive signs were there from the start. In many ways the Tunisia game looked like a typical opening match; a great start, the opposition gaining a surprising equaliser, followed by a second half of frustration to leave the fans disillusioned. But Harry Kane's last-minute header was the first indicator that this time could be different.

    So it proved as the team smashed Panama 6-1 in the next game, that secured qualification for the second round. Even the 1-0 loss against Belgium in a match between two-second string XIs opened up a tantalising route to the final.

    Of course, it wouldn't be England without some major dramas and the Colombia game certainly provided that. Yet once again it was different in the most memorable way possible; to win a penalty shoot-out may yet prove the most important psychological hurdle this young team have crossed. Next time they face one, perhaps two years from now in the Euros, they will know they can win.

    That brought a game against Sweden, a bogey team to England down the years but not this time; three superb Jordan Pickford saves saw off the isolated moments of danger in a match that was otherwise extraordinarily comfortable.

    In the end, Croatia proved a game too far; England dominated the first half but were unable to add to their early lead provided by Kieran Trippier's brilliant free kick. That proved crucial as Croatia came back strongly in the second half to equalise and eventually force victory in extra time.

    The 3rd place game may be easily forgotten, a glorified friendly that Belgium deservedly won. It still meant England had matched the team of Italia 90, featuring Gazza, Lineker and co.

    Looking back on the campaign, several factors stood out. England certainly played as well off the field as on it, presenting this group of young men as a team without the big egos, a functioning unit that put the common interest first. The contrast with the 'golden generation' could not be greater, and the fans felt able to genuinely identify with them.

    Even so, individual reputations soared in a tournament where many stars failed to turn up. While Ronaldo and Messi went home early and Neymar inspired a thousand diving memes, Kane walked away with the golden boot. At the other end, Pickford had a superb tournament while top Premier League goalkeepers like David de Gea and Hugo Lloris made spectacular errors, even if the latter's blunder in the final was soon forgotten as he wrapped his hands around football's greatest trophy.

    In between, Trippier and Harry Maguire were two of the revelations of the tournament, arriving on the international stage and making themselves household names not just at home, but around the world.

    Best of all, the age of this team means that, while the trophy didn't come back on the plane from Moscow, this group of players has every chance of developing into world beaters over the next couple of years.



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