The countdown will now need to be reset to 2026.
It’s hung there, out of the public eye, at England’s base in St George’s Park for nine years – the timepiece that was set to hit zero with victory at the 2022 World Cup.
The clock was the direct result of former Football Association chairman Greg Dyke’s daring opening speech at London’s Millbank Tower in September 2013, when he set his sights much mocked at win the tournament in Qatar.
In the end, England lost three wins. Saturdays quarter-final defeat against defending champions France put an end to their hopes.
But time does not stop. Once the dust settles, attention should turn to Euro 2024 in Germany ahead of another World Cup, which will be co-hosted by Canada, Mexico and the United States.
So where are England at as they look to end the cycle of disappointment and finally come out on top?
England’s new generation to cherish
England may have done better to reach the semi-final in Moscow in 2018 than they did here in Qatar, but Gareth Southgate’s Class of 2022 is unquestionably in much healthier shape going forward. .
Six of the starting line-up that lost to Croatia four years ago were still in place against France – but there’s a youthful touch to the current England squad, giving it a lot more room for development than the one starring Dele Alli. in decline, Jesse Lingard and veteran Ashley Young.
England’s younger generation, barring accident or the unexpected, will peak at the next World Cup – and what a peak it promises to be.
Jude Bellingham, at only 19 years old, is a future world star. He has already shown remarkable maturity for Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League, captained the Bundesliga giants and was one of the best English players here.
He is the ideal modern midfielder, with skill, grace, power and intelligence. Bellingham is a future England captain. When he becomes available on the transfer market, Europe’s elite will form an orderly queue.
Arsenal’s Bukayo Saka is just 21 and knows the fluctuating fortunes of international football well after missing a penalty in the Euro 2020 final shootout loss to Italy at Wembley.
Not only does this exceptional young personality have strength of character, but he also has glorious skill and an ability to speak freely on the pitch.
Saka scored twice as Iran were beaten 6-2, boldly netted in the round of 16 win over Senegal, then tormented France in the quarter-finals, winning a penalty and threatening from countless times.
If Saka was a stellar performer on a flank, Manchester City’s Phil Foden, 22, was another indicator of the future in the wide positions as he scored against Wales and then created two of the goals. England in the 3-0 win over Senegal. He’s been another sure starter for years.
West Ham United captain Declan Rice is only 23 but the way he played against France showed his comfort at World Cup level and why he is so valued. He’s another who could wear the captain’s armband in the future.
England have further reserves of young talent to give the FA optimism that Dyke’s dream can be realized four years after his initial target.
Chelsea’s Reece James, out through injury here, is an outstanding right-back and is just 23 years old while Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold, barely used in Qatar, is a year older.
Alexander-Arnold’s Liverpool team-mate Harvey Elliott is a certain England player of the future at just 19, while Chelsea’s Conor Gallagher, 22, will look even better to be with the team here.
Emile Smith Rowe, 22, of Arsenal, and Jacob Ramsey, 21, of Aston Villa, will have their own aspirations in England.
More will emerge in the years to come, but amid the desperation of that quarter-final defeat, the future looks much brighter than when England took a step closer to Russia.
Will England’s old guard survive?
The England manager – whether it’s Southgate or not – is unlikely to make any instant changes to a side that have again reached the knockout stage in Qatar, but change is inevitable.
Goalkeeper Jordan Pickford, defenders Harry Maguire, John Stones and Kyle Walker, midfielder Jordan Henderson and forwards Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling were an integral part of the England squad that contested the semi-final defeat of Moscow in 2018.
Longevity is greater these days, but it’s not a far-fetched assumption that Walker, Henderson and Kieran Trippier – all 32 – played in their last World Cup and will need to maintain their form and fitness to be taken in consideration for Euro 2024.
Maguire is 29 and while he has fully justified Southgate’s faith in Qatar, even his club future at Manchester United is in doubt. Manchester City’s Stones were first class in understated fashion and his style of play could yet give him another shot at a World Cup.
Kane, 29, will surely lead England’s attack in Germany barring injury or a form slump, but will he have enough reserves to make another World Cup? Sterling, 28, has been indifferent to Chelsea this season but his World Cup was completely overshadowed by his return to England following a burglary at his family home.
Pickford is only 28, a time when he will be approaching his prime. He has shown once again in Qatar why he is England’s undisputed first choice. The most obvious future challenger is Arsenal’s Aaron Ramsdale, but not yet.
All of those mentioned have shown enough character and resilience to ensure they won’t be written off, but the passage of time and the emergence of youth mean churn is inevitable.
And what about Southgate?
This is the biggest post-World Cup question. For the moment, there is no answer.
Southgate was naturally reluctant to discuss his future with the loss to France still on his mind, but part of that equation is very clear. The Football Association would like Southgate to serve every minute of the contract he has signed until December 2024.
The dilemma for the manager who has the best record since England’s 1966 World Cup winner Sir Alf Ramsey is whether he wants to continue in a fourth tournament, take a break or perhaps return to managing the club with its high stock.
Southgate’s England may have exited a round earlier than at the 2018 World Cup, but this team is better and younger. Whoever is in charge will feel they have a real shot at Euro 2024.
Does Southgate have the motivation to return to England after another devastating defeat? Or will he feel his race is over?
Southgate’s response will shape England’s immediate and long-term future.
Phil McNulty’s England player ratings
Jordan Pickford: Has again shown Qatar why he remains England’s undisputed number one. Vital saves at 0-0 against Senegal. Toughly questioned for France’s first goal by some, but also made some important saves. seven
Kyle Walker: Came into the World Cup undercooked after groin surgery but got better as it went. Helped keep Kylian Mbappe relatively calm with a very disciplined performance in the battle of pacemen. 6
Luke Shaw: World Cup regular although struggled early against France. Can be satisfied with his contribution. 6
John Stones: Had a top level World Cup. Virtually flawless and played a big part in England reaching the last eight. 8
Harry Maguire: Justified the confidence of manager Gareth Southgate by choosing him despite his marginalization at Manchester United. Very good against the United States, but had some nervous moments in the win against Senegal. Almost scored against France. Failed to reach Olivier Giroud in time for the winner, but no blame attached to that. seven
Jordan Henderson: One of Southgate’s leaders, earned his place as the World Cup progressed and showed why his England team-mates respected him so much. Scored against Senegal and worked as tirelessly as ever. seven
Declan Rice: Exceptional. If you ever wonder why all the fuss, watch how he played against France. A staple in this England team for years to come. 8
Jude Bellingham: Future world star and remarkable maturity in the World Cup for a 19-year-old player. Bellingham has it all. England captain at the 2026 World Cup? 9
Bukayo Saka: What talent. What a personality. A star everywhere with three goals – and he led France to shreds in the quarter-finals. 9
Phil Foden: Calmer against France but showed what he can offer against Wales and Senegal once Southgate found him a place in their roster. Foden’s time will definitely return. seven
Mason frame: Did well in the opener against Iran but then lost their place as Southgate picked their personnel and system for the knockout stage. Won the penalty missed by Harry Kane against France. seven
Harry Kane: The most important memory of his World Cup will be this missed penalty against France but led forward as usual and equaled Wayne Rooney’s record of 53 goals in England. seven
Marcus Rashford: Was back to his best by scoring twice against Wales. He was also on target against Iran and nearly equalized at the last minute in the quarter-finals with France. Is the real Rashford back? seven
Rahim Sterling: Was on target in the first 6-2 thrashing against Iran but his World Cup was then completely disrupted by his return to the UK following a burglary at his family home. 6
Kieran Trippier: The usual reliable contributions in the first two games against Iran and USA but then lost his place to Kyle Walker as manager Gareth Southgate picked his squad and formation. 6
Jack Greish: Restricted to the substitute role but at least made his mark this World Cup with a goal and a memorable “worm” celebration specially dedicated to his young friend Finlay Fisher, who has cerebral palsy. 5
Callum Wilson: Harry Kane’s assistant got some substitute action and selflessly contributed to Jack Grealish’s goal against Iran when he squandered a scoring chance to give his team-mate a chance. 5
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