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Daily Mirror
Daily Mirror
Andy Dunn

Gareth Southgate must end England habit despite not needing Prince William's advice

As a rule, England players tend to avoid social media when they are on international duty, especially when they are at a tournament.

And no less grand a figure as Prince William told them to do that when he visited the squad ahead of Qatar 2022. But they had no need to hit the mute buttons in the aftermath of this agonising defeat because the nation - and certainly the pundits - seemed to be in a compassionate mood.

England had played well, what happened to Harry Kane can happen, the referee was rubbish, football and sport is about fine margins and they did not favour Gareth Southgate’s side in the al Bayt Stadium. Correct, correct, correct, correct.

And Kane, Southgate and everyone in the England squad and on the staff can hold their heads high when they walk down the steps of the plane on Monday morning. Absolutely.

But the bottom line is that this WAS a chance blown, the bottom line is that England have a talent pool that is as probably deep as any nation can boast right now and Southgate has to find a way to take that final step.

He is the man for the job, make no mistake, but in the highest-pressure games - against Croatia in the semi-final of Russia 2018, against Italy in the Euro 2020 final and here against the French at Qatar 2022 - his team have not found a way to turn decent performances into victories.

Now, the planning starts for Euro 2024 and the hope is that the likes of Bukayo Saka, Jude Bellingham and Phil Foden will continue to develop into truly world-class players.

Gareth Southgate consoles England players after their World Cup exit (Corbis via Getty Images)

In this hard-fought game against world champions, they were good but not game-changing as they were against lesser opposition in the previous four matches.

Saka caused the French all sorts of problems, was regularly fouled yet only irregularly won free-kicks thanks to the strictly average official that was Wilton Sampaio. But Saka’s decision-making was erratic at times while Foden did not appear to be his usual super-confident, creative self.

Bellingham was effective in midfield areas and had one effort tipped over by Hugo Lloris but, by the time the next tournament comes around, he needs to be more of a regular goal threat.

This is being picky but there is no harsher spotlight than the one shone by a World Cup knockout game and none of these three wonderful talents could find that match-turning moment. But they are the future, the bright future.

With Declan Rice as the pivot of the side, this is the core of the team going forward. Marcus Rashford is returning to form and players such as Jadon Sancho hopefully rediscovering some form, there is a good nucleus of players with many tournaments ahead of them.

But assuming Southgate stays, he has some tough decisions to make because there have to be tough decisions if honourable failures such as this one are not to become a habit.

Southgate said his side showed the ‘balls’ to go toe-to-toe with a ‘big team’. Fair enough. But England ARE a big team, Gareth.

Harry Kane missed his second penalty which would have forced extra time (James Williamson - AMA/Getty Images)

As I said, the build-up to Euro 2024 starts here and this tough decisions should mean looking at the international futures of some players who acquitted themselves decently in this game.

We are talking Kyle Walker, we are talking Jordan Henderson, we are talking Luke Shaw, we are even talking Raheem Sterling.

Harsh? Yes, really harsh, really harsh to single out any individuals in a squad that has approached the game in the right way, played it the right way and conducted themselves on and off the pitch in the right way.

But this level of sport is harsh and England have come up short again. That is the bottom line. Harry Kane and every one of his team-mates were able to walk from that field of broken dreams with their heads held high. But that habit of honourable failure is one he has to break - sooner rather than later.

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