World Cup - Nick Westby: Let Moscow be springboard not the burden Turin became

England manager Gareth Southgate embraces Ashley Young after the FIFA World Cup semi-finae Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow (Picture: Adam Davy/PA Wire)
England manager Gareth Southgate embraces Ashley Young after the FIFA World Cup semi-finae Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow (Picture: Adam Davy/PA Wire)
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“Heroes” screamed one tabloid front page headline on Thursday morning.

“This is just the beginning” cried the football supplement of a broadsheet title, before going on to list the ages of some England’s key players to justify the point.

Steady on, was the more measured response around these parts.

England did well in reaching the semi-final of Russia 2018, of course they did.

They united the country behind them and a nation fell in love with their football team again after years of disenchantment.

In Gareth Southgate they have a gentleman head coach, a visionary who has taken the best principles of youth football across the world and is attempting to integrate it into the English system.

England manager Gareth Southgate walks back out onto the pitch after the FIFA World Cup semi-final

England manager Gareth Southgate walks back out onto the pitch after the FIFA World Cup semi-final

His team exceeded all expecations in Russia, making history on the way with a penalty shootout victory, a record number of goals scored and a style of play that at times was modern, purposeful and enjoyable.

But there is also a nagging sense as the dust begins to settle that Wednesday night was a huge opportunity missed, that semi-finals do not come around too often, nor with a game as winnable as the one that presented itself in the Luznikhi Stadium.

Due respect to Croatia and their wonderful midfield trio of Luca Modric, Ivan Rakitic and Ivan Perisic, they are not the German teams of the 1990s that twice beat England on penalties.

Granted, England have shown enormous promise in this tournament, but when the chips were down the more experienced schemers in Croatia prevailed and will take their place in tomorrow’s World Cup final.

Moscow cannot become a noose around the necks as ‘One Night in Turin’ became for every England squad that followed for a quarter of a century.

Nick Westby

Russia 2018 may indeed be just the beginning for this England generation, but it could easily be as good as it gets. For as they improve, so will Spain, Germany, Brazil, Argentina and Italy.

Look at what happened to England the last time they reached a World Cup semi-final, back in Italia ’90. They failed to qualify for four years later.

Relative success this time around is not a natural precursor to greater success in the future.

Moscow cannot become a noose around the necks as ‘One Night in Turin’ became for every England squad that followed for a quarter of a century. Let England develop under Southgate – just don’t overwhelm them with the burden of great expectations.

England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford (left) and Danny Rose look dejected after defeat to Croatia (Picture: PA)

England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford (left) and Danny Rose look dejected after defeat to Croatia (Picture: PA)