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England's decades of failure forgotten as sublime team reach World Cup semi-finals

19:03 GMT+3 07/07/2018
Harry Maguire England Sweden World Cup 070718
Gareth Southgate's side are no longer a team that their country are indifferent to, as a nation falls in love with their young lions

" It's coming home, it's coming home ," will echo ever louder around England after Gareth Southgate’s side secured their place in the World Cup semi-finals with a routine 2-0 win over Sweden.

The song was a constant reverberation around stadiums, pubs and homes the last time England reached a major tournament semi-final at Euro 96 and, 22 years on, it is helping to showcase the feel-good factor Southgate has created around the current squad.

For perhaps the first time in a generation, England fans have been able to take pride in a national team that is not characterised by cracking under pressure, off-pitch dramas and a 4-4-2 formation.

Street-wise, humble and exuberant, too, Southgate's squad has allowed fans to get carried away while the players keep their eyes firmly on the prize of lifting the World Cup trophy.

Harry Maguire is the perfect embodiment of this ethos and, having famously attended Euro 2016 as an England fan, he was here in Samara to provide the vital breakthrough when meeting Ashley Young's in-swinging cross in the first half.

An entire nation is behind something in an era of social media rows and Brexit. People are watching England in bigger numbers than the Royal Wedding, with Maguire staking his claim to be ‘Prince Harry’.

Southgate's gentlemanly touch also characterises the best of Britain and he has been keen to highlight the achievements of his staff and players outside of the limelight. This approach has been so impressive that a delegation from the German national team has visited the training camp in Repino to see what is being done after England learned lessons from the 2014 winners.

The stadium in Samara was only 80 per cent full and dominated by local Russians, but back home the support seems to be unwavering, with memes, jokes and a Southgate love-in hard to ignore for a generation of England players who are digitally savvy.

Dele Alli, who has endured fitness issues and some criticism at the World Cup, added a second goal to secure England’s passage, while last-16 penalty shootout hero Jordan Pickford again proved his worth in goal.

But England still remain flawed and Southgate will have issues to address ahead of a semi-final date with either hosts Russia or Croatia next Wednesday.

Alli, Jesse Lingard and Raheem Sterling all boast similar traits as players who are comfortable as No.10s, but two of the three are forced out of position in this system.

The trio have not clicked, and it has been a combination of set pieces and captain Harry Kane that have made the difference. Of England’s 11 goals, eight have come from set pieces, while Kane leads the Golden Boot standings with six goals.

But, despite these concerns, England have reached a World Cup semi-final for the first time since Italia ’90. It is also the first World Cup in which they have scored as many goals since 1966, but there is still work to be done to end 52 years of hurt.

This current England group have already outperformed the so-called ‘Golden Generation’ of the early 2000s, and will surely fancy their chances of reaching the final, given they are in the seemingly easier side of the draw.

Is it coming home? The answer could still be yes, with their hopes of winning the World Cup very much alive as they travel to Moscow for a date with destiny.