Gareth Southgate's young Lions came of age in Russiaby Jack Kitson / 12 July 2018, 09:46Tweet
There will be no first World Cup Final since the glory days of 1966, but Gareth Southgate’s England can look back on a cracking campaign during which they completely defied expectations, inspired a previously deflated nation, and reached the last-4 for only the third time in the country’s history.
Former Middlesbrough manager Southgate, in his first major tournament in charge, had the second youngest squad at the World Cup, but it’s fair to say that his youthful Lions unshackled the fear factor that has plagued many an England team, and in turn came of age in Russia.
“I’m remarkably proud of a group of players who have really advanced, and no one could have given any more,” said Southgate.
“The way they’ve represented their country has been exemplary. They have to go through big-match experiences to become a team that can win.
“If you look at every other nation who has had success, they’ve got to semi-finals and not got across the line first time.
“They have to use the experience for their own benefit: not just tonight’s, but all the experiences over the last few weeks that will and have made them a stronger team.”
The England squad will currently be drenched in disappointment following the heartbreaking extra-time defeat to Croatia, but they do still have the chance to leave Russia on a high when they face Belgium in the third-place play-off in Saint Petersburg.
"It's not a game any team wants to play in," said Southgate.
"We have two days to prepare. We will want to give a performance of huge pride.
"Every time we wear the shirt we want to play well and win. It's going to be a really difficult task. We've made such strides with our supporters and public that we want to continue to do that."
Belgium head into the match as the 6/5 favourites to win in normal time, with England priced at 21/20, whereas a draw can be found at 13/5 (Paddy Power).
Thanks for the memories Gareth, you’ve been an absolute revelation.— The Sack Race (@thesackrace) July 11, 2018
More to come. pic.twitter.com/e6qpdVYPNT