No More Years of Hurt?

Written by Connor Lawson

England are in the semi-finals of the World Cup for the first time in 28 years and the whole country has no idea what to do.

‘Three Lions’ is number one in the UK charts, it hasn’t rained for weeks, trousers no longer exist, ‘football’s coming home’ is how we initiate conversation, and England are two wins away from being crowned World Champions.

However, let’s not get too ahead of ourselves. We still have the difficult task of overcoming Croatia on Wednesday, and even then we will face the toughest test of them all before we can get our hands on the trophy.

So, how have we done it?

It all started against Tunisia. The game was held at 1-1 in stoppage time, and England fans all over the country were warming up their fingers to post on social media about the awful standard of refereeing the game displayed, and how typical it was of England to fail to win in their opening game.

Then, up popped Harry Kane from a corner and sent the nation into ecstasy. Little did we know, this was just a taste of what was to come.

Up next was Panama. Whilst they certainly weren’t our strongest opposition, we saw them off in style, putting six goals past them as Kane propelled himself to the golden boot position.

Our clash with Belgium was undoubtedly the most boring game of our campaign so far. With both teams already through to the knockout stages, it was essentially a match between two ‘B’ teams.

It was certainly a strange one. England knew that finishing second, and therefore losing to the Belgians, would give us a favourable route to the final, but Southgate didn’t want to make it too obvious that this was what he was going for.

In the end, it finished 1-0 to the Belgians, meaning they claimed top spot in group G, and England finished second.

This left a last 16 clash with Colombia. As I walked to the pub and waited for the game, I had no idea I was in line for the biggest emotional rollercoaster of my life.

The first half was predictably cagey, with the main action being a headbutt on Jordan Henderson that only ended with a yellow card. The atmosphere was tense and nervous.

The second half saw the game open up and England were the first to break the deadlock after Kane was fouled in the box, winning a penalty.

When the tournament’s top scorer stepped up, there was no doubt in my mind that he would convert, and he did. Delirium.

What followed was a period of Colombia attacking and England defending. We put up an effective wall against the Colombian onslaught and dealt with their attacks quite well.

Until the last minute.

A goal for Colombia, heartbreak for England, silence in pubs across the nation.

Extra-time was needed.

The nerviest 30 minutes of my life saw chances for both sides, though it became clear they simply would not be separated by anything other than penalties.

The dreaded shootout. England had never won a penalty shootout in the World Cup before this. It looked bleak.

Colombia scored. Kane scored. Colombia scored. Rashford scored. Colombia scored again. Henderson….

Missed.

It was at this point I lost hope. I wasn’t ready for us to go out at the last 16 stage, not after all the hope and the joy. I was almost reduced to tears.

Colombia then took their penalty. Against the bar! Relief.

We still had to level it, and Trippier, the star man all tournament, did exactly that. We were back on terms. 3-3.

I barely had time to catch my breath before Colombia took their fifth. It was saved! Pickford got a hand to it!

I had been catapulted from misery to standing on the edge of sheer joy as Eric Dier stepped up.

He converted, and I swear, I have never seen scenes like it. I didn’t know where to put myself or what to do. Everyone was hugging everyone, pure passion and emotion was pouring out of everyone.

England had won on penalties in the World Cup for the first time ever. I didn’t stop smiling for hours. I woke up smiling and I spent the whole of Wednesday smiling. It was a great night.

Next up was a clash with Sweden for a place in the last four.

I was very confident going into this game. Sweden did not look special in any of their previous games, and I knew their tactic was to defend for as long as possible and score on the break. The solution? Score early.

Whilst it wasn’t particularly early, Harry Maguire’s header on half an hour put us a goal to the good, forcing Sweden to come out of their shells, out of their comfort zone.

We could have had two or three before the break were it not for some good goalkeeping coupled with some poor composure in front of goal.

Sweden did not look threatening at all, and when Dele Alli headed home, I knew we were destined for the semi-finals. The Milton Keynes lad had done his town proud. Having seen him play his first ever professional game years ago for MK Dons, I felt especially proud of the man from my hometown.

(Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

Pickford made some fantastic saves, but Sweden never really attacked us 100%. They were nowhere near as good going forward as they were at the back.

In truth, the whole game was something of an anti-climax. It felt completely bizarre that England were dominating a World Cup quarter-final. We were going to progress with ease.

So, what’s next?

Croatia in the semi-finals is the next test on Wednesday night. Croatia have a great team with some real quality players, but they shouldn’t overwhelm us.

They struggled past both Russia and Denmark in previous rounds, two teams I believe England to be better than.

They are beatable. At the end of the day, this is an England squad brimming with confidence like never before. I truly believe they can beat anyone.

I don’t think anyone wants this journey to end. The country has such a fantastic atmosphere. All ages, genders, races, religions, classes are united in supporting England.

People who don’t even like football that much are getting immersed in the World Cup and England’s journey through it. That is a credit to you, Gareth Southgate, and your players.

Southgate is the best manager for years. He is a remarkable tactician, a good game manager, a level-headed individual, a passionate fan, and just an all-round nice guy.

The England team are playing exactly like that, a team. Whilst we may not have the best players in the world, we have a team of passionate players who really want to bring glory and success to the country, and everyone is behind them.

No matter how far we get beyond the semi-finals, even if we fail to get past the semis, the England team have done the nation proud, and given many people a football team to be proud of.

Come on England!

Bring football home.