Gareth Southgate is currently preparing his England team for their first World Cup semi-final appearance in 28 years against Croatia. The Three Lions have consistently disappointed over the years, so what has happened to take England to their third World Cup semi-final?
The England boss has always demonstrated an eloquence when dealing with media and suitably looks the part in his waistcoat, but here we look at some of his key moments, which have elevated England to one step away from the World Cup final.
After a disappointing Euro 2016 campaign, Southgate brought in 12 new players into the squad for the tournament in Russia, reducing the average age of the team to 26. This made the Three Lions not only the youngest squad in Russia, but also the least experienced, with an average of 20 caps per player.
Amongst his youthful selections, Harry Maguire and Kieran Trippier have been fundamental components in England’s World Cup run to the last four, whilst Ruben Loftus-Cheek has also impressed when he has been called on.
Selected as the youngest player to captain England at a World Cup, Harry Kane repaid Southgate’s faith by scoring a brace in the Three Lions’ opening game against Tunisia. His stoppage time winner was pivotal to England’s comfortable passage to the Round of 16.
Another viable option would have been the Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson, who has also played a key role in England’s tournament run, protecting the defence to allow the other attack-minded midfielders to get forward.
Had England lost to Colombia, one could only imagine the backlash Southgate would have faced for making eight changes to his starting XI in the Group G decider against Belgium.
The former England U21 coach stood by his choices, and was rewarded with a comfortable quarter-final tie against Sweden, instead of the pulsating encounter which Belgium faced against Brazil. It also sets up a semi-final clash with Croatia as opposed to the European Championship finalists France.
Gareth Southgate’s sudden-death penalty miss at Euro ’96 against Germany had ended England’s best chance to win a major trophy since 1966.
“I’ve learnt a million things from the day and the years that have followed it,” Southgate said during the World Cup.
Like many coaches before him, Southgate has prepared diligently for the dreaded penalty shootout. But unlike many his predecessors, the England boss has lived the experience, and so drew upon his lack of preparation to ensure his players would be best prepared for their challenge from 12-yards, should it arrive.
And although Jordan Henderson’s effort was saved, and Mateus Uribe had struck the crossbar with Colombia in pole position, there can be no question that Southgate’s negative experience positively impacted England’s preparations for their first penalty shootout win at a World Cup.