So Near Yet So Far – How England Nearly Ended 50 Years of Hurt

So Near Yet So Far – How England Nearly Ended 50 Years of Hurt

England’s last World Cup win came way back in 1966 and what was once described as 30 years of hurt in Baddiel and Skinner’s iconic 90s anthem had quickly become 50. But 2018 in Russia almost brought that chapter of suffering to an end.

Led by Gareth Southgate, England headed into the tournament fancying their chances, but not necessarily among the hot favourites to lift the trophy. They had qualified for the tournament as comprehensive group winners, winning eight and drawing two, so fans could afford to be cautiously optimistic.

Group Stages

England had been drawn in a tough-looking group for the first stage of the tournament. Southgate’s side would face up against Panama, Tunisia and a Belgium side rated by many international football betting markets as strong contenders to at least reach the final.

First up was Tunisia and the Three Lions didn’t have everything their own way. Harry Kane put England ahead, but they were pegged back by a 35th-minute equaliser. And it looked like the points would be shared until Kane popped up again in added time to hand his side the win.

Game two saw England face Panama and it was much more straightforward. Kane scored a hat-trick as Southgate’s side coasted to a 6-1 victory that saw them all but wrap up their qualification for the knock-out stages.

Defeat to Belgium, courtesy of former Manchester United man Adnan Januzaj, followed in England’s final group game, but the team were through as runners-up – and now just three wins from the final.

The Knock-Out Stages

Awaiting England in the knock-out stages was a dogged Colombia side, who made life hell for the Three Lions over 120 minutes. Kane’s 57th-minute penalty appeared to have been enough, but an added time equaliser denied England.

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Nothing could separate the sides over 30 minutes of extra time and so penalties followed. And this was when the supporters really started to believe, as England defied historical heartache to win the shoot-out and book their place in the quarter-finals.

Another tough test awaited in the last eight, in the shape of Sweden, but England were again up to the challenge. Goals from Harry Maguire and Dele Alli helped wrap up a rather more routine 2-0 victory to send the Three Lions into a World Cup semi-final for the first time since 1990.

And England made a perfect start to their game against Croatia. Kieran Trippier fired in a fifth-minute free-kick that sent a nation into jubilation. But the ecstasy was relatively short-lived as Ivan Perisic’s second-half equaliser put dreams of a first final since ’66 on ice.

England appeared to tire as the closing stages of the game approached, while Croatia were finding a second wind. With neither side able to find a winner, extra-time followed, and the writing appeared to be on the wall for England.

Mario Mandzukic’s 109th minute strike put Croatia in front and the Three Lions simply didn’t have the energy to respond. Defeat to Belgium in a third-place play-off would follow and the dream was over for another four years.

Always Next Time

The near-miss left England fans shattered, but alive with excitement for our next opportunity on the world stage, which will come in Qatar in just two years’ time. A whole nation will remain behind Southgate and his developing squad.

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While nations like Spain, Germany and Italy out to make up for poor showings in 2018, it’ll undoubtedly be tough. But the Three Lions’ display in Russia has helped a nation believe again – World Cup 2022 can’t come around soon enough!

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