Credit…Noushad Thekkayil/EPA, via Shutterstock
AL KHOR, Qatar — For England, it ended because it all the time does, because it all the time looks like it must: with a penalty missed or a chance wasted, a fallen hero holding his head in his hands, replaying that moment, the one when all of it fell apart, time and again in his mind, wanting nothing greater than a probability to rewind, to do all of it again, to make it right.
There’ll, in the times to come back, be loads of recrimination as England picks over the bones of its 2-1 defeat to France on Saturday within the quarterfinals of the World Cup, because it involves terms with one other exit, one other disappointment, one other few years of hurt. It’s, or a minimum of it has turn into, a natural a part of the cycle, a probability for catharsis, collective therapy or just a few good, old-fashioned bloodletting, depending on the circumstances.
A bit of of that may find its way, inexorably, to Harry Kane, the team’s captain, essentially the most prolific goal-scorer in his country’s history, and inevitably, then, the player who missed the penalty that may need taken the sport to overtime, that may need kept England in Qatar for slightly longer.
He won’t be alone. Gareth Southgate, the manager, will attract his share of criticism, too, because the country’s most successful manager for half a century weighs whether he has the “energy” to proceed right into a fourth major tournament, to do all of it again. Much of it, though, can be directed at Wilton Sampaio, the Brazilian referee, a person who achieved the rare feat of becoming England’s anointed villain despite awarding Southgate’s team two penalties.
The principal accusation centered on France’s first goal, a whistling, fizzing laser of a shot from the midfielder Aurélien Tchouámeni that capped a move England very clearly felt began with a foul on Bukayo Saka. Sampaio waved away the protestations; his video assistants didn’t see enough of an error to intercede.
Credit…Gabriel Bouys/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
There have been, nonetheless, other apparent offenses: a penalty claim from Kane, particularly, which was definitely a foul but was not, on more detailed review, actually within the penalty area; a succession of hairsplitting free kicks awarded against England; an array of French transgressions that appeared to pass by unnoticed. With each, England’s fury and frustration mounted, Southgate and his staff growing increasingly more agitated on the sideline.
Once the critiques have subsided, though, once culpability has been assigned and internalized, one other emotion will come to the fore. Greater than anything, England will look back on this game with regret.
During the last three weeks, France — and France alone — has appeared to be on cruise control in Qatar. Argentina’s campaign has been conducted exclusively on a fraught, emotional knife-edge. Brazil seemed in some way giddy right up until the purpose that it was dumped out by an obdurate, unyielding Croatia.
Portugal faced the existential angst of dropping Cristiano Ronaldo. Morocco has been backed by a gathering swell of pride from across Africa and the Middle East. The Dutch faced no little domestic opprobrium for his or her uncharacteristic conservatism. Even England, largely unflustered during its stay, teetered slightly after enduring the apparently unbearable indignity of drawing with the USA.
France’s progress, against this, had been ominously serene: two straightforward wins within the group phase, a defeat against Tunisia that no person appeared to notice — a minimum of partially because French television cut away after what seemed to be a late equalizer, neglecting to point out the audience that it was subsequently ruled out — after which a breezy victory against Poland within the round of 16.
Against England, though, that sang-froid almost proved France’s undoing. Tchouámeni’s goal appeared to lull his team right into a torpor. Step by step, it stripped any urgency from its play, any impetus, as if expecting England simply to succumb. The reigning champion, France ceded first territory after which control. It sat back, rested on its laurels, rode its luck. Eventually, it was made to pay: Tchouámeni tripping Saka, Kane sending the following penalty past his opposing captain and Tottenham teammate, Hugo Lloris.
At that time, the wind appeared to be at England’s backs. France’s vaunted attacking line, spearheaded by Mbappé, had been peripheral to the sport; its midfield was being overwhelmed; Deschamps seemed curiously reluctant to attempt to wrestle back control.
That was England’s probability: not simply to prove, as Southgate said, that it could “go toe to toe” with an elite team, a champion team, but to beat one; to assert a spot not only in a 3rd straight tournament semifinal, but to establish a gathering with Morocco, spirited and inspired but an indisputable underdog; to glimpse a path to the World Cup final, open and welcoming, at its feet.
That it didn’t take it should haunt Kane, Southgate and the remaining of his players for a while. France mustered not more than a number of seconds of menace — Olivier Giroud denied by Jordan Pickford, the following corner worked out to Antoine Griezmann, a flashing, perilous cross, Giroud offering no second probabilities — to seize the lead over again. England, against this, was not nearly as unforgiving.
There was no person, Southgate said, who he would moderately entrust with a penalty than Kane. “He’s the most effective,” he said. “He’s the most effective,” he said again, as if for emphasis. Kane couldn’t, though, deliver again, not this time. The psychology was complex, he suggested, the pressure intense. “It was a second penalty,” Southgate said. “Against a goalkeeper who knows you well.”
Kane’s effort sailed over the bar, England’s hopes for an additional 4 years disappearing off into the night. He bit his jersey, held his head in his hands. Lloris punched the air in delight, his teammates flooding to him to congratulate him, presumably for signing for Tottenham a decade ago just in order that he could scramble Kane’s thought processes within the Gulf a decade later.
France stays heading in the right direction to turn into the primary team since Brazil, back in 1962, to retain the World Cup title. It has had the air, throughout this tournament, of a team that suspects it knows how all of this ends.
It’s that, for England, which is able to make the pain even sharper: that for the primary time, here, because it stared down the world champion and located nothing to fear, it had dared to consider things could be different.