In his private moments before leaving for Russia, Gareth Southgate did not have high hopes for this World Cup.
The England coach told friends he thought we stood a much better chance in 2022 in Qatar. He knew he was fielding a young, inexperienced squad up against teams who had more international caps under their belts.
But he said there was one thing his players had going for them. All they ever wanted to do was go out there and play football.
Their heads had not been turned by the trappings of fame, and their minds were fixed on the beautiful game.
The lads have played football more beautifully than anyone could have dreamed of.
To beat the England curse of the penalty shootout would have been enough for them to return home as heroes.
To beat Sweden 2-0 in yesterday’s quarter-finals made them superheroes.
The squad some thought wouldn’t get out of their group will now go forward to the first semi-final with England in it since 1990.
It is a magnificent achievement, and gave a nation worn down by the angst of austerity and the boredom of Brexit a spring in its step.
Or as the BBC so soberly put it, Harry Maguire’s header “sent them batty in Birmingham” and Dele Alli’s goal “bonkers on Brighton beach”.
And the England team has done it with such good manners, courtesy and sportsmanship, they are a credit to their country and an example to the world.
Put heat on Putin
Now we can dare to dream of England in another World Cup final – an event the prime minister and a senior royal would be expected to attend. Not this time.
Not with Dawn Sturgess lying unconscious in hospital kept alive on a ventilator.
Dawn and boyfriend Charlie Rowley were the innocent victims of one of Vladimir Putin’s death squads. An assassination team operating on British soil clearly still contaminated with their vicious poison.
We accept that Mr Putin has staged a well-managed World Cup.
We have no quarrel with the Russian people who have welcomed our fans so warmly.
But we cannot do business with a man who sends his goons to murder our citizens. Nor must we give him the satisfaction of greeting our dignitaries.
A week tomorrow Donald Trump will sit down with Mr Putin. But first he will sit down with Theresa May.
The PM must provide the US president with the necessary intelligence to leave him in no doubt of Mr Putin’s guilt for this crime.
In return, Mr Trump must do no backdoor deals with the Russian president.
Vladimir Putin must remain in international isolation until he behaves.
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