England does not particularly care, really, how 'it' comes home. Harry Kane penalties or Harry Maguire headers work just fine. On Saturday it was the latter — and a second goal by Dele Alli — that carried England past Sweden, 2-0, and into the World ...
The move by Jesse Lingard and Dele Alli that led to the second goal of England’s World Cup quarter-final win over Sweden was quick, instinctive, and modern—just like the team itself.
Photograph by Fabrice Coffrini / AFP / Getty
In 1996, to commemorate England hosting the European Championship, the comedians David Baddiel and Frank Skinner joined the swirly pop band the Lightning Seeds to record “Three Lions (Football’s Coming Home).” The song was a testament to just how easy it was, in the mid-nineties, to make a rousing, sing-along Britpop anthem. Baddiel and Skinner crooned with a kind of droopy pride about football, which is generally believed to have originated in England in the eighth century, finally “coming home.” That year, England would lose in the Euro semifinals on penalty kicks. This didn’t stop Baddiel and Skinner from updating “Three Lions” for England’s 1998 World Cup campaign—where they would lose, once again, on penalties. Until they beat Colombia in a shoot-out last week, exiting major tournaments on penalties was such a consistent feature of English futility that it had been absorbed into the national character.
I’ve always found England’s obsession with their one shining moment of glory (winning the World Cup in 1966) to be somewhat pathetic, delusional, and a bit hilarious, in an Al Bundy-ish kind of way. But, during the past week, the phrase “football’s coming home” has taken on a different charge, no longer an expression of self-deprecating arrogance but one of frisky, ironic pride. “It’s coming home” is now one of this World Cup’s best memes. And that’s largely because this feels like a significantly different English team—more dynamic and creative, young and swaggering, capable of adapting to different styles and, at least for now, converting their penalties. Importantly, they are a team that’s been shorn of the grizzled, self-serious leaders of the past, such as Wayne Rooney, John Terry, and Steven Gerrard, who seemed bereft of irony, and whose faces hung with a kind of historical burden. England’s current manager, Gareth Southgate, is the former national-team player who missed the decisive penalty in the Euro semifinal in 1996. Earlier this year, he played a video of that moment for his star players, as though to demystify the moment, and to remind them that they are different.
Midway through Saturday’s quarter-final, England was leading Sweden 1–0, thanks to Harry Maguire’s legendarily large head. Sweden, despite spending much of the match defending rather than attacking, had created a chance mere minutes into the second half. It would have been peak England to get over their penalty bugaboo only to squander their next match against a weaker but far more pragmatic Swedish side. But, nearing the hour mark, Kieran Trippier retrieved a deflection near Sweden’s end line and passed it to Jesse Lingard, who was floating around the edge of the box. He seemed to be dancing in place as he waited for the ball. Then, with his first touch, Lingard curled a perfect cross to the far post, where an onrushing Dele Alli headed it in. It was quick, instinctive, modern. The cameras cut away before we could see any of Alli and Lingard’s famed celebration dances.
England announced their World Cup squad, in May, with a clever video featuring young fans throughout the country shouting out their local stars. It was a celebration of the kind of diversity that has rubbed some the wrong way; instead of a David Beckham-esque idolatry in the media, the tabloids now poke and prod at players like Raheem Sterling, who is originally from Jamaica, for his tattoos and sports cars. But it’s a team that reflects the reality that there are many Englands—that you can all be citizens of the same nation but have different relationships to its history. Now, instead of “Three Lions,” it’s “Dele Alli,” “Lingard,” and AJ Tracey freestyles. At the end of the squad-announcement video, a kid says, with a hint of surprise, “The team’s actually quite sick, you know.”
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