That was a sickener, wasn’t it? The two Harrys will inevitably get grief but Gareth Southgate’s England side can return from the World Cup with their heads held high.
16 Conclusions on a heartbreaking exit for England are available, but do consume these ratings.
Whenever a goal does in from 28 yards, it’s reasonable to look at the keeper. Could Pickford have done better with Aurelien Tchouameni’s ripsnorter? Roy Keane thought so; we don’t. Hit at just under 70mph, through the legs of a defender, arcing away from Pickford – the fault lies closer to the shooter, not the goalkeeper. Pickford bailed out England immediately after they had got level with a fine save to take the bounce out of Adrien Rabiot’s shot after a crater appeared in the Three Lions’ midfield. Made another decent block to deny Olivier Giroud moments before the France striker headed in the winner.
Kylian Mbappe escaped from Walker’s pocket once in 100 minutes, that occasion being a 56th minute run and cut-back which amounted to nothing. The key to stopping the France No.10: don’t engage, and get your mates around you. Between them, Walker, Bukayo Saka, and whichever midfielder happened to be closest all combined to do an admirable job on Mbappe. England focusing their attack down the right stopped Theo Hernandez from supporting his winger while ensuring there were white shirts around the ball upon the turnover. A fine job all round, from Walker, his team-mates and the coaching staff in stopping arguably the world’s best player. Sadly, France have other players, especially their No.7, who are quite good at football.
The left-back endured a nervous start but settled after being sucked into a challenge by Ousmane Dembele before the winger created the first chance for Giroud. After that one slip, Dembele struggled to have an impact and his replacement, Kingsley Coman, fared no better. Shaw was off corners, perhaps to give England more pace to defend any counter, but the Manchester United defender was allowed a first-half free-kick, which he fired straight at Hugo Lloris.
Maguire will inevitably get stick for France’s winner and perhaps he could have located Olivier Giroud a little quicker amid the chaos after Antoine Griezmann’s initial corner had been half-cleared. But Griezmann’s second delivery was perfect. Giroud pulled off the back of Stones, leaving Maguire the nearest man. His mere presence on the scene will make him guilty in the eyes of many. Otherwise, Maguire was solid. Opted to go direct too often in the first half, with fewer than half of his 11 long passes finding a target. But France, Giroud and Griezmann especially, were excellent at clogging up the passing lanes into the midfield. Maguire arrived in Qatar something of a joke figure but he leaves with his credibility restored even if his reputation may never fully recover from a wretched 18 months at club level.
Stones did not fall into the same first-half trap as Maguire in possession and the City defender cruised through a fraught encounter without giving the ball away once, completing 100 per cent of his 72 passes. He also won all of his ground duels in another thoroughly impressive performance. For all the talk of England’s defence being its weak spot, Stones and Maguire have been rock solid in Qatar.
Rice was everywhere, tackling, blocking and intercepting – yet the man he was largely tasked with stopping persistently carried France’s biggest threat. That, in the immediate aftermath of a heart-wrenching defeat, is more of a compliment of Griezmann’s elusiveness that any criticism of Rice, who manfully screened his centre-backs. Had he left his post to go chasing Griezmann into the channels, then France’s other midfielders would have capitalised on the space. Should he have brought down Mbappe in the build up to England’s opener? Maybe.
The Liverpool skipper harried, hustled and hassled for as long as he was given by Southgate, and his graft was one of the contributing factors in England edging the overall midfield battle, even if it wasn’t enough. Henderson also offered Saka an option on the right while Walker was minding Mbappe, though rarely a penetrative one.
England’s biggest hope had a quiet first-half by his own standards but he forced Lloris into a stunning save early in the second half, moments after the nation had held its breath while Bellingham clutched a gammy ankle. The teenager grew into the game and his battle with Tchoumeni was a delicious taste of the next decade. Bellingham doesn’t deserve to be going home tomorrow, but none of this England squad do. He may well go to the next World Cup with armband on his bicep.
Spent the game on the periphery because of England’s intent to attack down the right but still carried a threat and, despite the obvious depth on the bench, it still felt a backwards step to see him substituted. Southgate, assuming he remains England manager, has to find a way to get Foden more heavily involved because, well, he’s f***ing brilliant. The current shape maybe doesn’t accommodate the City star in a more central role. So change it.
Like his team-mates, Saka started a little nervously but quickly became England’s biggest threat when he wasn’t being kicked all over Qatar. Steady called it last month…
Wrote this about Saka and a weird emerging Premier League trend back in November. Did not expect it to be A Thing in the World Cup but this is weird so far. pic.twitter.com/4UsR5C06fD
— Football365 (@F365) December 10, 2022
Saka’s movement must be a sodding nightmare for any left-back, especially a stand-in like Theo Hernandez. His promotion after Lucas Hernandez’s injury was seen a potentially a good thing for France since he’s better going forward, but Saka kept him on a lead, taking him for walks inside and outside the right channel. The Arsenal winger beat Hernandez to Shaw’s cross in the 71st minute and ought to have scored. Hooked shortly after for reasons we are yet to fathom.
Should have had a penalty in the first half – whether it was in or outside the box, how the Brazilian referee missed the foul is beyond us. Had a couple of other sights of Lloris’s goal in the first half, when his Spurs team-mate was equal to them. But Kane showed big hairy balls of steel to dispatch the spot-kick England were eventually awarded. The League Two official needlessly heightened the tension by blasting his whistle at those around the box. Kane collected his thoughts, re-spotted the ball, and tw*tted it keeper’s left when Lloris flung himself right. Less said about his second penalty the better, the regret heightened by the expectation that he simply would not miss. Head up, lad.
MASON MOUNT (for Henderson 79)
Won England’s second penalty with his first contribution, highlighting why he was one of Southgate’s first changes. His second, when the first went to waste, was to shoot into the second tier from 30 yards when England had four in the box and Walker on the overlap.
RAHEEM STERLING (for Saka 79)
Ten touches, none of them significant. A questionable choice of replacement in a questionable change.
MARCUS RASHFORD (for Foden 85)
Had the last kick to save England but his 20-year free-kick was inches too high when, as a minimum, he had to hit the target.
JACK GREALISH (for Stone, 98)
Only had a solitary minute because of Stones’ injury, which seems odd. When it was perhaps his time, Mount got the nod instead.
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