Shropshire Star comment: Let’s cheer England into final
When Gareth Southgate's men flew to Russia, most of England was pretty sure they'd be home soon.
They left without a nation's expectations on their shoulders. Even the most ardent of football fans couldn't see a route past the quarter finals.
And then something peculiar happened. England started winning, while some of the more fancied teams fell by the wayside.
Cometh the hour, cometh the man. Gareth Southgate spoke about his team creating their own history. They have done precisely that.
With a minimum of fuss, with no salacious off-the-field incidents and with charm on their side, England have earned a place in the last four. It is only the third time in their history that they have advanced so far.
While Spain, Portugal, Argentina, Germany and Brazil have faltered, England have stayed strong. And there has been a coming together of football fans and non-fans as the nation has become hooked.
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England stand within touching distance of the World Cup final. Should they beat Croatia, they will advance to the last two. It will not be easy. Croatia have the world's best creative midfielder and have shown remarkable spirit: particularly in defeating the host nation Russia on penalties.
And yet there is no reason why we should not believe. We have the World Cup's leading goalscorer and the tournament’s finest goalkeeper. We have a defence that is confident and assured and a midfield that is hard-working and has flair. Finally, we have an exceptional national manager whose stock has risen exponentially during the past few weeks.
Gareth Southgate knows all about pressure and the consequence of failure, having surrendered England's place in the Euro 96 championship by missing a penalty against Germany. Many men would be defined by such an experience.
Yet this World Cup has been his own personal road to redemption. He has managed astutely, made squad members and first XI players feel valued, got the best from his support staff and led by example.
When England defeated Columbia, he consoled a devastated Columbian penalty taker who had missed before celebrating with his men. He has been a man apart; an inspirational figure.
If England are unable to progress further, the tournament should still be considered a success. Yet we can but dream of two more wins. We have nothing to fear against Croatia and the nation will be right behind our boys.
England expected nothing when the national team left these shores. Now the nation expects.