Same story, different World Cup: What cost England in Qatar
When challenged by defending champions France, Harry Kane and his boys failed the test and with it returned the bitter memories of England's subpar performances at football's grandest stage.
England have always assembled one of the most formidable units heading into the FIFA World Cup, however, the outcome has remained constant, which is disappointment. They were knocked out by Brazil in the 2002 World Cup, hosted by Japan and South Korea, an event fondly remembered for Ronaldinho's masterclass. The venues kept changing over the period and World Cup was conducted in three different continents before it returned to Asia in Qatar, but the wait to see England replicate their 1966 feat doesn't seem to end, at least till the next edition, which will be played in North America.
In the ongoing edition, England kicked-off the campaign with a dominant win over Iran, scoring half a dozen goals. The outcome was followed by emphatic wins over USA and Wales and a similar scene was witnessed in the round of 16 tie against Senegal.
However, when challenged by defending champions France, Harry Kane and his boys failed the test and with it returned the bitter memories of England's subpar performances at football's grandest stage.
France, who are in the race to become the second nation to successfully defend the World Cup after Brazil, booked a semifinal spot against Morocco, handing a 2-1 defeat to their European neighbours. While many labelled England as the better side at the Al Bayt Stadium on Saturday night, in this article we try to connect the dots and see what cost England in the blockbuster quarterfinal tie.
Starting with the obvious
It took France just 17 minutes to take a lead after defensive midfielder Aurelien Tchouameni blasted from long range, which went past a diving Jordan Pickford into the bottom corner. However, following the contest England defender Harry Maguire, who came close to scoring in the second half, questioned the goal and pointed fingers at referee Wilton Sampaio.
“Really poor, very poor. From minute one, there were five, six fouls in the first 15 minutes, not one yellow card. It’s a foul for the first goal, leading up to it on Bukayo (Saka). I can’t really go into explaining how bad his performance was. I don’t want to go into too much because I’ll end up getting fined," noted the defender as he slammed the referee while speaking to ITV.
Maguire was right on the money as it did feel like the Brazil official was the man making the most errors on the field. Despite, England being awarded two penalties, there were numerous incidents, when the referee allowed the match to continue instead of signaling for a freekick.
Out of sort midfield
England dominated possession and completed 503 passes, 126 more than winners France. Despite the domination, the midfield lacked venom. It was mostly slow and sideways passing, something which was easily predicted by the French defenders.
England skipper Kane, who most would have predicted as France's biggest threat, was playing almost in a number 10 position, certainly providing the defenders and his club teammate Hugo Lloris with breathing space.
Saka felt like the only shining light in front of the goal, as he was seen charging, tussling hard to penetrate inside the D, which also resulted in England's only goal in the match. The Arsenal striker was fouled inside the box, following which Kane blasted past Lloris from the 12-yard range.
England manager Gareth Southgate also chose not to make any use of his superb midfield strength, which included Jack Grealish and James Madisson.
While Jordan Henderson worked hard in the middle but what England really lacked was creativity. Both Grealish and Madisson would have filled the gap perfectly but Southgate chose to introduce the former only when John Stones was injured in the closing minutes of injury time.
Coming to the goalkeeper. Despite the errors by the referee, Pickford could have easily stopped the first of the two goals scored by France. The shot by Tchouameni was at an ideal height for a goalkeeper and it didn't have the pace, which could have troubled him.
Reacting to Tchouameni's strike, former Manchester United player Roy Keane on ITV noted: "From Gareth's point of view, one or two bad decisions (for the opening goal) - Rice going to ground, you have your two or three midfielders back in there, but it is a brilliant strike.
“Keeper, could he do better? I think so, but you have to get out to the shot a bit quicker and more aggressively. But when the ball comes back in the middle of the park, you have to get out there.”
Miss of the tournament
The biggest reason behind the outcome was Kane's misfired penalty at the closing stage of the match. With England trailing 1-2, and less than 10 minutes remaining in the regular 90 minutes, the skipper had an opportunity to create history. Kane had already scored earlier from the penalty spot, which saw him equal Wayne Rooney as the leading run-scorer of England. Another goal he would have surpassed him.
But Kane's spotkick sailed over the crossbar and the epic reaction by French star Kylian Mbappe said it all. While Kane pulled his jersey and kept it in his mouth, Mbappe burst into a laugh, which assured the French supporters that they were heading into the semis.
"A World Cup is every four years. It is a long time to wait. I am proud of the boys. We had a great camp, a great World Cup and it's come down to small details which I'll take responsibility for," Kane was quoted by SkySports as saying after the match.