Tens of millions of England fans’ hopes were dashed on Wednesday, when the national team lost 2-1 against Croatia in the World Cup semifinals. It had been England’s best performance in decades, and many had dared to dream that the team might even go on to win it — that football was coming home.
Alas, it was not to be. But that cloud has a silver lining: The England team is already in a fantastic position for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
It’s four years away, sure, and a lot can change in that time. But right now, the signs are all looking good.
First, look at the team. The average age of the English squad was under 26, the joint-youngest in the World Cup tournament, and only three of the current players — Ashley Young, Jamie Vardy, and Gary Cahill — are over 30. Harry Kane, the captain, is just 24. In comparison, Croatia’s average is more than 29, and some of their top players are past 30, like 32-year-old Luka Modric, 30-year-old Ivan Rakitic, and Mario Mandzukic (32).
Many of the same players who led England to such success in Russia this year will be returning in Qatar, with four more years’ experience under their belts.
Next, just look at the England team’s progress in the last few years. The UEFA European Championship in 2016 was an abject humiliation — England crashed out after losing 2-1 against Iceland. But the squad that England fielded in 2018 seemed like a completely different team, despite comprising many of the same players.
There’s no reason to believe this growth won’t continue as they become yet more familiar playing with each other and on the world stage.
And then there’s Gareth Southgate. The waistcoat-wearing coach has transformed England’s prospects, and he seems sure to stick around. After all, after he guided England to its best World Cup result in three decades, who is going to ask him to leave?
The FA, the governing body of English football, already have 2022 firmly in their sights. A strategic plan launched in 2016 is targeting having “England men’s and women’s senior teams ready to win in 2022 and 2023.” The 2018 World Cup has shown that this isn’t just a pipe-dream — England might actually, finally, pull it off.
And the team is already eyeing up the road ahead.
“It hurts, I don’t know what else to say, it hurts,” Kane said after the match. “It shows we can be up here. We can knockout games and we can get to semifinals but the next step is to go one further. We have to carry that on. We want more.”