England Player Ratings vs Croatia… sort of
This England team did brilliantly to reach the semi-final. Thank you. Each and every one of you. Thank you. Today isn’t a time for scape-goats, and that’s difficult to avoid when writing individual player ratings for a loss.
Ultimately, the game hinged on England getting tired, losing control of the midfield from half-time onwards and the reluctance of Southgate to change that with substitutions or a tactical switch. Croatia, of course, were a good side, but this game did feel like it was there to be won for England. That said, it’s churlish to fault the players for being tired in a tournament where no one expected them to play this many games. It’s churlish to fault the man who has restored faith, hope, belief and a winning mentality to English football for sticking with what got him there. So, these player ratings are as much a thank you, as a review of last night.
Even Jordan couldn’t save us. He picked two out of the back of his net, neither of which he could do much about. Nobody has quite epitomised the sheer unexpected joy of this England World Cup quite like Jordan Pickford. He embodied our embrace of shithousery by letting Januzaj score to get an easier side of the draw (this is fact now.) His old tweets embodied the honesty, relatability and youthful exuberance of a team that grew up with social media. He picked up the ball and handed it personally to each of England’s penalty takers, embodying the togetherness and obsessive attention to detail of Southgate’s side. His save against Colombia embodied a new dawn. His ecstatic, fist-pumping celebrations embodied the mood of a nation bathed in sun, hope and football.
Thanks for the memories, old and new, Jordan.
Keiran Trippier has been England’s best player this tournament. Keiran. Trippier. And in previous tournaments, that might have read like a savage indictment. But not this time. This time, had England won last night, it might have made him a podium contender for the Golden Ball. His delivery, from dead-balls, first-time-volleys and by-line dinks was exceptional. His doggedly-determined defending underpinned by real quality and awareness.
Squint, squint really hard, and it could have been David Beckham standing over that ball five-minutes in. When he went down holding his ankle in the first half, you half expected minute-by-minute blogs to post pictures of it for the nation to rub. The second time he went down, there really was nothing to be done. At least it allowed him the standing-ovation he deserved, even if it maybe wasn’t the one he’d have wanted, or the one he truly deserved.
Thanks for everything, Keiran.
Kyle Walker proved me wrong. And I’m sure that won’t keep him awake at night, after all, Three Lions don’t concern themselves with the opinions of sheep. At the start of the tournament I worried about his positional ability in the middle, but he has grown into an England centre-back. Assured, aware and capable. More than that, he grew to symbolise a team. Through the power of the meme, Walker was able to communicate so much. He communicated that this team really get along, but don’t take themselves too seriously. That they understood the opportunity and how much it would mean, but know there are things bigger than football. He connected with a nation mired in echo-chambers, and united our divisions. Of course, Kyle Walker couldn’t play at right-back – he is a man of the centre. Thanks for the memes, Kyle.
Defended well for most of the game. Got his head on a corner that was headed off the line although was probably going wide. Clearly very tired, mentally and physically, by the time he allowed Mandzukic in behind to put Croatia ahead. This tournament Stones established himself as a cornerstone of England’s defence moving forward. He eschewed nominative determinism and became more than the anonymity of his name. Well done John.
Excellent again. Presumably he could hear from Russia pubs across England chanting his name every time we got a corner, but it was with his feet, not his forehead, that he made a real contribution to this game. Stepping forward with confidence and often able to break the lines, he was crucial to the attacks England had in the second half. Thanks for the head-lines, Harry.
The old-head of a young team. It would be tempting to write that Ashley Young’s 32-year old legs caught up with him last night. But all the England players got tired. In the first-half, Young was a constant outlet and threat for England down the left. Then, as with his teammates, he tired and began to struggle.
Ultimately, Ashley Young, in the twilight of his career, got to go to a World Cup. And he belonged. And he delivered. Thanks for the experience, Ashley.
Jordan Henderson has been a leader throughout this tournament. But the mental and physical energy required clearly took its toll. I wouldn’t want to chase either Modric or Rebic around for any length of time, and certainly not both of them. He was tired and really struggled in the second half.
But this tournament Henderson banished an image of himself that’s stuck thanks to Premier League rivalries… and Ferguson. Thanks for standing up, Jordan. You were counted. You counted.
We kept expecting the king of banter to come back from that anonymous second half performance and just finesse one in the top corner. But he didn’t. He couldn’t. Both he and Alli looked tired and really struggled to get a foot on the ball in that midfield. He couldn’t because of the times he’d done that before. Because he was tired. Because we were never supposed to get this far. Because he was never supposed to play this many games, smile this much or bring quite this much joy to a nation. But he did. Thanks for all the smiles, Jesse.
(I will not hear that the unicorns weren’t his idea. They just were. Ok?)
Probably carrying a slight knock all tournament, Dele played through the pain. He stayed on the field in all senses of that term. That was clearly a struggle for him last night, both through fitness and the provocation of some physical Croatian challenges. Well done. Thanks for Sweden, Dele.
‘I think we can win it!’ A pre-tournament statement that would have been easy to mock, had he not then gone out and taken the golden boot race by the scruff of its golden balls. But it wasn’t just the goals. The passing. The hold-up play. The shot-to-the-chest he took from Dejan Lovren last night. Eventually though, it all caught up with him. Even Harry Kane was tired. No amount of pure love for England, for his fiancé or for goals could go on powering his engine.
Then there was that chance. He got two cracks at that one, didn’t he? He wasn’t offside. Harry-six-goals-golden-boot-best-no-9-in-the-world-Kane, got two bites at it and he wasn’t offside. But he’d scored six already. More than anyone could have hoped or dreamed for.
And if, ‘I think we can win it!’ was a statement ahead of its time that eventually came to capture the mood of a nation, then his remarks last night were too, ‘it hurts, it hurts a lot, but we can hold our heads up high.’ That’s certainly how I felt last night.
It’s not quite over for Harry yet either, he’s still leading the race for the Golden Boot. Lukaku needs two to overhaul him. Who says that third-place play off is meaningless? Thanks for the goals, Harry.
With the possible exception of Trippier, Sterling was England’s best player last night. When he went off, England lost their outlet and Croatia immediately played ten yards further up the field because they weren’t worried about his pace any longer. It’s a shame we had to go out, but surely, SURELY now, it will be obvious to people what Sterling gives this side. Thanks for never giving up, Raheem.
Do we wish you’d made midfield substitutions earlier; stuck with Sterling; dropped one of the strikers deeper to help out; taken off the tired legs of Kane, Henderson and Alli earlier; believed in Loftus-Cheek over Dier. Yes, we wish all of those things. But do we wish it had been anyone else in the dugout making those decisions? No. We don’t. No one here at Foul Throw, nor, from looking at social media and listening to the radio, anywhere else in the country.
Thank you for carrying yourself with dignity, for making tough decisions, for standing by your principles and your players. Thank you for a Summer we’ll never forget. Thanks for the numbness of a shoot-out win, the party of a 2-0 quarter-final lead and the gift of hope. Thanks, Gareth.