England should be proud of their performance in Russia
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It's Not Coming Home, But England Should Walk away With Pride

The Three Lions' magical run through the 2018 FIFA World Cup came to an heartbreaking end in a 2-1 loss to Croatia in the semifinals of the tournament.

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England 2018 FIFA World Cup
Alex Kurtz

It's not coming home. These four words are something I hoped to never have to utter, and yet two months ago I would not have thought anything of it.

The phrase "It's coming home," became a rallying cry for English football fans during the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

With the United States not qualifying this year, I decided before the tournament started to root for England since I got to live in London for a short period this summer.

Normally, rooting for the Three Lions is asking for your hopes and dreams to be crushed. Their recent string of placements at the past World Cups is nothing but sheer disappointment.

In fact, the last time England advanced any farther than the quarterfinals was in 1990 when the team lost in the semifinals to West Germany on penalty kicks.

What would follow 1990 would be nothing but failure, and the proverbial penalty kick monkey stayed on the back of the team since that day, as the national team up to 2018 would not win any penalty kick opportunity.

With all the failure of previous years from England and their national team, expectations were low coming into this tournament. This team though was poised to be different, and even a newer fan of the team like myself was strapped in for a wild ride through Russia.

England qualified for the tournament and was slotted into Group G with Belgium, Tunisia and Panama. This was one of the easier groups of the tournament to get out of besides Belgium, who featured a world-class attack with Man City star Kevin De Bruyne, Man United star Romelu Lukaku, and Chelsea star Eden Hazard.

The Three Lions, while written in by about every expert to get second in the group, lacked in star power compared to many of the top teams in Russia.

Even in the previous years of failure, England always had at least one world-class name on their squad like David Beckham or Wayne Rooney. Now their hopes of bringing home their first World Cup lied with 24-year-old captain and Tottenham forward Harry Kane.

Kane enjoyed success with Tottenham during the last EPL season, and he picked up the hopes of an entire country in game one of groups against Tunisia.

The Tottenham forward scored both goals for England, including the game-winning header in stoppage time to give the Three Lions their first three points in Group G.

Despite picking up the win, English fans were not impressed. Tunisia was one of the weakest teams in the tournament and the margin of victory should have been much greater.

The game was tied up at the end of regular time and England luckily capitalized on a mistake to score on a header to avoid extra time, or even worse: penalty kicks.

With tiebreakers being settled by goal differential in the group stage, the Three Lions would need to make a statement against Panama with the Belgium powerhouse lurking in the distance. That statement was made.

England smashed Panama 6-1 thanks in large part to a hat-trick from Kane and two goals from Man City defender John Stones.

With two wins now in the books for England, they could jockey for first place in the group if they were able to defeat Belgium in the third and final game of Group G.

The Red Devils, however, were too much for the young squad, as Belgium and Real Sociedad midfielder Adnan Januzaj put in a curling strike into the top left corner in the 50th minute to give Belgium all they needed for the win.

England would finish the group stage 2-1 and second behind Belgium in Group G. Their loss however in that game almost set them up with the perfect opportunity for a deep run in the bracket stage.

This World Cup was one of the upsets though and it played in favor of the Three Lions.

Defending champion Germany was knocked out in the group stage with a 2-0 loss to South Korea, meaning that Mexico and Sweden advanced from that group.

With England's second-place finish in Group G, they were slotted in the lower half of the bracket, away from powerhouse teams like Uruguay, Portugal, France, Argentina, Brazil and Belgium.

Instead, the biggest threats from the lower half of the bracket were Spain, who had won the World Cup in 2010. They still possessed a powerhouse roster and were poised to make a run at the finals from the top half of the lower bracket.

However, Spain was upset by host country Russia who beat them in penalty kicks. With the biggest visible threat out of the lower bracket, it looked like it was England's side to win.

In the round of 16, the Three Lions were slotted against Columbia, who were without star player James Rodríguez. The game started off quite chippy as Columbia were attempting to draw fouls left and right from the English side.

Despite this, England held possession for most of the first half and England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford only had to make one save attempt in the first 45 minutes of action.

In the second half, England would finally get on the board. Kane would once again deliver on a penalty kick in the 56th minute to give England the 1-0 lead.

As the game progressed, Columbia turned on the jets and the pressure, but time would run out. Five minutes of stoppage time now separated England from their best placement at a World Cup since 2006.

Then came Columbian and FC Barcelona defender Yerry Mina.

Columbia was granted a corner in the 93rd minute and Mina leaped over England right-back Kieran Trippier for an incredible header to neutralize the score. Extra time now loomed for the Three Lions.

England was almost able to put away the game thanks to two great chances from defender Danny Rose and midfielder Eric Dier, but neither would connect and the game would go into penalty kicks.

Normally penalty kicks are stressful for everyone watching. For England though, it was almost as if someone threw a broadsword through their back.

The Three Lions have failed on every attempt to win a game on penalty kicks since 1990, starting with that semifinal loss to West Germany.

They then lost to Germany in EURO 1996, Argentina in the 1998 World Cup, Portugal in EURO 2004 and the 2006 World Cup and Italy in EURO 2012 and all of which came on penalty kicks.

Each team would hit their first two kicks and tied 2-2. Columbia forward Luis Muriel would hit the teams third shot to give them the 3-2 lead.

Up comes midfielder and Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson to take the shot from England.

Henderson would go for the right post but Columbian goalkeeper David Ospina would make a brilliant diving save and punch it away. 3-2 Columbia.

If Columbia were to hit this next shot, England would have no margin for error, but they caught a break. Mateus Uribe would smack a hard strike towards the top bar, going over Pickford. While the English goalkeeper was beaten, the shot would bounce off the bar and out and the score remained 3-2 Columbia.

Some room to breathe now for English fans, but as myself and millions watched around the world, the intensity would remain the same.

Up next was Trippier, who would go top left with his strike. No chance for Ospina to make the save. All square at three apiece.

Carlos Bacca then followed for Columbia. This time Pickford guessed right, making an extended diving save to the right and suddenly England is tied 3-3 with Dier stepping up to kick.

Make this, and 28 years of penalty kick woes are off the nation's back. Miss and we keep going.

He did not miss.

Dier would deliver a low strike to the left post. Ospina could not quite get there, and England advanced to the quarterfinals.

"It's coming home!" might have been yelled about six times from myself, and Twitter blew up with English fans all exuberant. It had been 28 years since the loss to West Germany, and no longer would the red and white have to hear about woes after extra time.

They had done something Rooney or Beckham were never able to do, and now Sweden awaited them in the quarterfinal. At that moment, this team felt different. It felt like England were ready to cash in on the biggest stage in international football, and the whole nation was right behind them.

With Sweden looming in the distance, two legends of the game decided to up-the-ante a little bit. Former Sweden star and current LA Galaxy striker Zlatan Ibrahimović tweeted this at Beckham:

"Yo @ davidbeckham if @England wins I buy you dinner where ever you want in the world, but if Sweden wins you buy what ever I want from from @IKEASverige. Ok?"

The former England captain then upped the stakes tweeting this in response:

"@iamzlatanibrahimoiv if @swemnt win I will personally take you to @ikeasverige and buy you what ever you need for the new mansion in LA @lagalaxy , but when @england win I want you to come watch an @england game at Wembley wearing an England shirt and enjoy fish & chips at half time…"

Beckham was confident that his former squad would get things done and so was the rest of the nation. England would go on to dispatch Sweden 2-0 thanks to a header from defender Harry Maguire in the 29th minute and a header from midfielder Dele Alli in the 58th minute.

While he did not end up scoring, England forward and Man City star Raheem Sterling caused headaches for the Sweden defense all game thanks to his speed.

Pickford would also keep the game scoreless thanks to three brilliant saves that caught the attention of football fans around the world.

The first save came right after the second half started, which nearly was an equalizer from the head of Sweden forward Marcus Berg. Pickford made a full-length diving save to the right to get the ball away from the net.

Sweden forward Viktor Claesson almost cut the lead back to one after Alli's goal, as he hit a low strike towards the English net. Pickford would make the initial save and Henderson would proceed to stop the second attempt and cleared the ball out.

Berg would give Sweden one more chance to get on the scoreboard, but Pickford once again would make an incredible stop for the third and final time of the game.

The score would remain 2-0 until the final whistle, and the win was something England fans had almost never seen in the bracket stages of the World Cup: control.

As I watched the game, I had never once thought that England might relinquish the lead they had and it was a nice change of pace from the Columbia game because if another game went to penalty kicks, I might not have been able to handle it.

It was a good day to be an English football fan.

Ibrahimović also then responded to Beckham after the game saying that he would live up to the friendly wager. The icing on the cake.

Croatia, a nation of only four million people that had usurped giants on their way to a Cinderella-style run, was now the only thing standing in the way of a spot in the World Cup final.

England had not taken home a title since they won the tournament on home soil in 1966 and destiny appeared to favor these lions over the former. When the time came to play, it could not have started any better for them.

Alli was fouled close to the box around five minutes into the contest, setting up a free kick early on for the Three Lions. Trippier would take the attempt and bang the shot into the top right corner.

Just a few minutes into the semifinal of the World Cup, England was in the lead thanks to Trippier's first career international goal.

London's Hyde Park erupted into a frenzy, beer was thrown into the air across the country, and you best believe that my friends and I exclaimed "It's coming home!" from the top of our lungs.

While it was a brief time to celebrate, no semifinal of the World Cup though is won within the first five minutes. Any football fan can tell you that.

This game was no different.

Croatian midfielder Ivan Perišić would equalize the game in the 67th minute on a beautiful redirect on a deep cross. Some fans wanted a high boot call, but the ref stayed quiet and the game was now tied 1-1.

Perišić would come close to adding a second goal in less than five minutes, but his shot would bank off the right post and Pickford would save the redirected shot to keep the game tied up.

While the game against Sweden felt like complete control, Croatia's pressure in the second half would continue to pressure England heavily.

The first 90 minutes would expire and the two teams would head into extra time. Croatia picked up right where they left off.

Eighteen minutes later, Croatian and Juventus FC forward Mario Mandžukić would beat England defender John Stones and put the ball past Pickford to give Croatia the lead in extra time.

The pressure was non-existent, from the English side throughout the second half of play into extra time, and Croatia simply outclassed them in the final 80 minutes of the game.

Just as the magical run looked to continue from the young English squad, Croatia popped their balloon to continue a magical run of their own.

Despite the loss, England could hold their head high. This team was not expected to do anything in the tournament, and yet they nearly got the right to face France in the World Cup final. Croatia was simply better that day.

While I remain a fan of the United States National Team, I will never forget the run I got to experience as an English football fan.

While the title might not be coming home, I got to take home an experience from England that carried over past my time living in London, and I will never forget that.

Hold your heads high England. Your performance was truly one of the lions and I was glad to say I got to be a part of it.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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