England’s World Cup quarter-final with France was always going to be touch and go. There isn’t much above it for quality, pressure and match-ups. This was football at the highest level.
But in games like that it is important to get into it as quickly as you can, and England were poor in the first half. Take France’s first goal: we were second to react because we weren’t being aggressive enough.
We started firing after the break and would have deserved to make it 2-2 on the strength of that second-half performance. You don’t get time off in a World Cup knockout game, though, and England took too long to mentally adapt to a couple of bad decisions from the referee.
Categorically, there was a foul on Bukayo Saka before France broke and scored the opener, and it rattled us. We never quite closed them down, which was symptomatic of that first half, and subconsciously we went a bit negative in our approach for a while afterwards.
Yes, the ref, Wilton Sampaio, gave England two penalties – but they were penalties. We could easily have had another one and, in any case, that doesn’t compensate for his other errors.
Harry Kane just tried too hard with his second spot-kick, which sailed over the crossbar. I’ve had to take two penalties in the same game before and it is awkward, and Kane had the extra complication of facing his Tottenham Hotspur colleague Hugo Lloris, who he will have taken countless kicks against in training.
Overall, the difference between England and France was one of mindset. We weren’t proactive enough at first, and although we upped our game once we went behind, it left you wondering why we couldn’t have started like that.
We still miss that absolute self-belief, while France looked like seasoned winners who didn’t have any doubt that they would win. I think we’re 95 per cent there and getting better, but it’s a tough one to take because we’ve been saying that for a long time.
The timeline has slipped on Greg Dyke’s prediction that England could win the World Cup in 2022 but without doubt we are now in a position to be contenders, and that’s an improvement.
We’re still learning how to win at the top level. We need a major title to happen and then I think we’ll look like a different footballing nation and truly translate the success of our clubs to the international game.
I think France will go on and become back-to-back world champions. I don’t think there’s any question that they have been the best team at this tournament, and that’s despite missing the injured Paul Pogba, N’Golo Kante and Karim Benzema.
England losing to them reminds me of my playing days. When we went out of the 1986 and 1990 World Cups it was to the eventual winners, Argentina and West Germany. Sometimes you just run into the wrong team.
I hope Gareth Southgate sticks around and leads England in another major tournament. If he chooses to walk away then that’s absolutely fine but he’s done brilliantly. The team has made progress and I’d give him another two years. There is no obvious successor waiting in the wings, either.
I don’t see Kane still being in the team at the 2024 European Championship, however. The game has changed and he is not going to be as evergreen as someone like Olivier Giroud. Maybe that will be part of the little bit of growth that this team still needs.
Trevor Steven is a former England footballer who played at two World Cups and two European Championships. @TrevorSteven63.