Like so many times before but, really, in a totally different way. England ultimately go out of an international tournament after a missed penalty from a star, but this wasn’t a shoot-out, and it wasn’t a case of Gareth Southgate’s side getting outclassed in midfield. It wasn’t even a player of Kylian Mbappe’s class scorching them.
Instead, England were arguably the superior side in this 2-1 defeat to the French, who still remain world champions. Southgate’s had chances that were as good. They had some of the better play.
They just didn’t have much luck, or – if you want to be harsh on the referee, which many will – some of the core decisions.
And that meant that the biggest chance of all – the opportunity to eliminate the highest class of side in a key game – wasn’t taken either.
The reassurance will be that England made them look far inferior to that in a fine performance. The reality that matters most is that they again went out at the quarter-final stage.
If you stand back, it was just a 50-50 tie that one fine team shaded. If you stand back even further, though, the wait goes on to 58 years.
It’s cruel. It’s also this level. It may have been an even better chance than Euro 2020 final.
On this occasion, though, Southgate got his tactics absolutely right.
That could be seen with one of the few moments that Mbappe really threatened, other than that searing run past Kyle Walker in the second half.
The full-back generally marshalled him well – bar one slip that wasn’t even his fault.
One of the most conspicuous moments of the game came in the opening few minutes, nowhere near the ball, when most would have been looking at the other end of the pitch. It set so much that was to follow but also only emphasised how brave Southgate’s approach became. England were on the attack but Walker didn’t even dream of joining in. He instead stayed near the halfway line, but even closer to Mbappe. There was Walker, mere yards from the French forward. It stayed like that for most of the first half – but, crucially, not all of it.
In the 16th minute, Jordan Henderson was forced out of position, requiring Walker to rush up. It was only one moment, and the full-back is so quick that it was an instant, but it was enough.
Dayot Upamecano charged up the field before feeding Mbappe, who was finally free of restraint. Walker had sprinted back but Mbappe had already played it inside. The ball was worked back to Aurelien Tchouameni, who just let fly.
The long shot was just too quick for Jordan Pickford.
England just needed to speed things up themselves. This was the lesson. They had initially got too bogged down in the middle of the pitch, Kane looking sharp around the box but not in that usual number-10 role.
France had the pace to master him there but no longer the poise. This is not the defensive structure of 2018. There were so many loose and ragged moments, especially any time Saka got on the ball.
The French were so visibly afraid of his vibrancy. It played into France paying Southgate’s side a lot of respect, especially on going ahead. England began to take command. They had the better shape.
It was just going to require the right move from England, the wrong decision from France.
That was what happened as Saka at last broke through, and Tchouameni clumsily clipped him.
Kane stepped to score.
It meant he went level on international goals with Wayne Rooney, but was to influence what followed.
This was the issue with France, and why the game had been there for the taking for England. France were clinical in one box but clumsy in the other. How else to explain the three-minute period that turned the game again?
It was where the frustration should really lie – how easy they gave it back to France, and how easy they were opening them.
In one sudden flurry, Olivier Giroud forced a brilliant save from Pickford before getting ahead of Harry Maguire for a thunderous error. It came from a simply perfect cross from Antoine Griezmann.
There was no such accuracy at the other end, nor such judiciousness. Instead, when dealing with what should have been the simplest punt and little enough danger from substitute Mason Mount, Theo Hernandez inexplicably barged the midfielder over.
It went VAR but the decision seemed inevitable.
So did another Kane goal.
This was the chance to break the record. This was a simple kick against a goalkeeper he knows so well, and who he had already beaten.
It was another there for the taking. Rather than just hit a penalty, though, Kane got into a poker match. Lloris stood firm, then decided well. It looked like the goalkeeper went the way Kane was running up, leading to the forward opting to put more power on it. He put too much power on it.
The ball went over – and that was almost England’s World Cup over.
There was one final moment of vintage World Cup tension. England won a free-kick on the edge of the box. Marcus Rashford stepped up.
This was it. He’d already scored one in the group stage from a similar position. You could feel that tension in the Al Bayt.
Rashford struck it well… but just too high.
The kick summed up the match. Conviction, quality, a real scare for the French… but just not close enough, and a chance ultimately wasted.
Southgate and his players can be proud, but also frustrated. England again go out at a quarter-finals, but in a different way than any tournament before.
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