England’s 2018 World Cup dream ended with defeat in the semi-finals against Croatia, and thoughts now turn towards what is next for Gareth Southgate’s young squad.
Here, Press Association Sport takes a look at some of the future issues for the Three Lions to tackle when they return from Russia.
On the pitch
England will have one official match left at the 2018 World Cup, the third-place play-off against Belgium in St Petersburg on Saturday. Following some time for reflection, the Three Lions will return to action for the start of the new UEFA Nations League campaign against Spain at Wembley on September 8 and then a friendly with Switzerland in Leicester three days later. England will not have long to wait for a rematch against Croatia, with an away fixture set for October 12 before travelling to Spain. A home friendly against the United States on November 15 will be swiftly followed by the visit of Croatia to Wembley for the last of the round-robin Nations League group fixtures.
Room for improvement
For the best part of an hour, England looked in total control against Croatia, before the likes of Luka Modric, Ivan Perisic and Ivan Rakitic started to master the midfield. Given the calibre of the European club sides they play for, that should have come as no surprise to Southgate, the coaching staff or indeed the England players. However, there seemed to be no clear adjustment in approach, when perhaps a reshuffle was needed to weather the storm – something which will come with experience both on the field and in the dugout.
Young Lions still to roar
At an average of just over 26, England headed to the World Cup with one of the youngest squads. Southgate felt his players had “come of age” in Russia – but there are a few who are probably not going to be involved again should England make it Qatar 2022, such as wing-back Ashley Young who turned 33 ahead of the semi-final. Several players, though, will be aiming to make their senior breakthrough for the next cycle – including the likes of Manchester City’s 18-year-old midfielder Phil Foden, a star of the successful 2017 Under-17 World Cup squad, where he was named player of the tournament in India, and Liverpool forward Rhian Brewster, who scored successive hat-tricks on the way to the final win over Spain. Fellow Reds striker Dominic Solanke, 20, is expected to gain more senior caps after making his debut against Brazil at Wembley in November 2017. He was part of the side which won the Under-20 World Cup last summer.
It’s coming home (no, it really is this time!)
England’s next major tournament – should they qualify – will be Euro 2020. The finals will be played across 12 countries to mark the 60th anniversary of the tournament. Wembley is set to host seven games, including a last-16 fixture, both semi-finals and the final. Maybe, just maybe, football will come in 2020.