“It’s coming home”, the theme slogan resonates euphoria for England fans and invites ridicule from other fans. The chant was making the rounds resolutely when Gareth Southgate’s team made a brave run to the semis in the World Cup 2018 defying all expectations. It has been a case of going close to home but not actually there. England has failed to jump over the final hurdles in their last two appearances in major tournaments.
The last one in the Euros 2020 final where they lost to Italy on penalties was a rather bitter pill to swallow for the English. Most of these players have now been there with Southgate’s set up for a while now, and the new ones are promising young talents raring to go make their mark on the world stage.
Iran in their opening game was a much more important test for their world cup credentials than many would give credit for. For starters, Iran is the 20th placed team in world rankings but even if we ignore that, England previously have been notorious for losing such games on the world’s biggest stage. One doesn’t have to go back much further than 2010 when England drew their opening game to the USA, who in comparison to their opponents can be labeled footballing minnows. The result was so shocking that much of the world media had misquoted the score in England’s favor the following morning. Dismantling an Iran team which must have been determined to make a statement performance by a 6-2 margin in their opening game shows the maturity of the England team.
Gareth Southgate’s biggest achievement as the team boss would be instilling a sense of national unity which even two world cups ago was divided by club loyalty. Iconic players such as Rio Ferdinand and Frank Lampard have gone on record to say how their club rivalries played a part in hostility within the dressing room. Now in 2022, such dressing room politics seem a tale of yesteryears. From Arsenal’s Bukayo Saka to Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford, they are one team.
England’s new “golden generation” will however face challenges such as their approach of making this attack-heavy team retreat back into a defensive back-five whenever it comes up against top opponents. Their approach in their upcoming game against USA, which provides a potential route for revenge for 2014, and an always fierce battle against Wales will provide a clearer picture of how far England has come as a team. But the signs in the opening game were promising for this team and their avid supporters. For now the chants of “It’s coming home” seem more hopeful than delusional.
Read more: England Squad analysis for 2022 World Cup