There was something inevitable about Sunday. Everyone confident of an England win. A goal in less than two minutes. The stuff of victory surely? But enter the challenge of penalties. Then tears.
Yet that is not the end of the story. It is a chapter on the road of national recovery in England’s place international football. A generation of incompetent managers came and went, unable to control a generation of prima donna players, who proved unable to fuse as a team, who repeatedly let their country down, turning England into the laughing stock of international football. But no worries, because they did so knowing that their country was dominated by a generation willing to laugh it off.
Times have changed. Gareth Southgate has leadership qualities absent from his predecessors for decades. He has built a team composed of young players who do not entertain the culture of the good loser. They are, to the last man, determined to win. They felt it keenly when they lost on Sunday. They disappointment was acute. But their determination to win was enhanced not diminished. They look to the World Cup as an opportunity to prove they can deliver.
And England as a nation does not yet have the national pride of winning the trophy of an international football competition. But it can and does take pride in the fact that it now has a credible team who stand a very good chance of delivering that ultimate win. After the defeats of decades, that is a win in itself.