Jordan Henderson is desperate to extend his record-breaking unbeaten run and help England reach the World Cup final.
Gareth Southgate’s men have ripped up the script over a remarkable a month that now sees them preparing for a semi-final clash against Croatia.
It has seen widespread apathy towards the Three Lions replaced by excitement and renewed hope, with previously unheralded players stepping up and better-known names underlining their quality and in some cases changing perceptions.
Henderson is among those to have quietened the doubters this summer, with the Liverpool captain shining in a side that is now preparing to line up at the Luzhniki Stadium on Wednesday.
“It’s a special feeling to know that people back home and out here in Russia are enjoying the experience just as much as we are,” the midfielder said on the eve of the game.
“All the celebrations and the songs they’re singing back home, it inspires us as players to be able to sort of bring the nation together and put smiles on people’s faces.
“I think that’s the biggest thing so far to come out of it and we just want to continue doing everybody proud.”
There is no doubt that pride has been restored regardless of the outcome on Wednesday, when Henderson’s selection is a good omen.
The 28-year-old has not tasted defeat in an England shirt since the last World Cup four years ago, going on a 30-match unbeaten run that is the longest of any player in the country’s history.
“Someone mentioned it the other day to us,” Henderson said with a smile. “But, to be honest, I wouldn’t really look too much into it because I don’t win on my own. We win as a team.
“Just as much as if I played and we lost every match, I don’t think it would be my fault either. Of course, I want to win. We want to win as a team. But it’s not down to any individual or one player.
“It’s down to us as a team. It’s down to what we do behind the scenes, what we work on in training, all the hard work to get here. The whole squad, even people who aren’t here that have chipped in for us to be in this situation now.
“That’s what I have a focus on. The biggest thing for me is just continuing to win – and hopefully a few more wins over the next week.”
That focus on collective success over individual achievement has been key to England’s success this summer, putting them within touching distance of joining the heroes of 1966 as the only team to make a World Cup final.
Henderson takes “a lot of good things from the past in terms of 66 and what they achieved then” but is not getting ahead of himself given the threat posed by Croatia.
“I’ll obviously speak to the forwards and tell them what I think,” Henderson said. “But, at the end of the day, Dejan is a fantastic defender.
“I think he’s had his fair share of criticism over the last year or so, but he’s done so well over the last six months, really, especially after the start of the season.
“He’s suffered a lot of a criticism but he’s bounced back so well.
“For me, he’s got everything a centre-half needs: he’s aggressive, good in the air, can play out from the back, good on the ball and he’s a real leader as well, which is massive as a defender, always talking.
“I’m so pleased for him because he’s a great person as well. A great character off the field and in the dressing room.
“So, I’m pleased for him that he’s in a semi-final of a World Cup, but hopefully that journey for him ends tomorrow.
“I am very close to him at Liverpool and wish him all the best – but, like I say, hopefully that journey for him ends tomorrow.”
A thoroughly professional performance earned France a place in the World Cup finals as they beat Belgium 1-0 on Tuesday night.
Samuel Umtiti headed in the game’s solitary goal from a corner in the 51st minute.
Here’s a look at how the Red Devils approached the game.
Goals – 0
Shots – 9
Possession – 64%
Tackles – 12
Dribbles – 15
Roberto Martinez had everyone guessing before kick-off as his team sheet raised plenty of questions. In the end, he deployed a back four as Belgium set up in a 4-3-3 formation with Nacer Chadli playing right-back in place of the suspended Thomas Meunier while Jan Vertonghen was at left-back.
Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard were played on either side of Romelu Lukaku up front while Mousa Dembele came into a three-man central midfield. Dries Mertens was brought on as Belgium chased the game in the second-half and made an impact as he provided more width but to no avail.
TACTICAL TALKING POINT
While Belgium set up in a 4-3-3 formation, Marouane Fellaini took up an advanced role every time they had a prolonged spell of possession. He almost played as a striker, in line with the last defender, positioning himself for crosses. However, he also would drift wide, usually unmarked. That would help Belgium change the angle of attack, with Hazard often taking over from there.
Meanwhile, the space he vacated in the middle would be dropped into by De Bruyne who could help dictate play from the middle. However, the Manchester United midfielder’s positioning the final third may also have had an adverse effect on his club team-mate Lukaku who seemed stifled. The striker was unable to use his movement to good effect as Fellaini’s presence limited the space in the channels for him to exploit.
Martinez can hold his head up high. To lose the semi-finals of the World Cup on one set-piece is a bitter pill to swallow. However, for all their possession, Belgium only had nine shots compared to France’s 19. That does not read well.
Rating – 6/10
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Samuel Umtiti became an instant hero on Tuesday as the France centre-back scored the only goal in the World Cup semi-final to lead his side to victory against Belgium.
The defender rose highest to power home a second-half header from an Antoine Griezmann corner to take France into their first World Cup final since 2006.
Here’s a closer look at Umtiti’s performance.
This was a battling performance from Umtiti, who hasn’t quite lived up to his reputation at the World Cup. The lapses that have plagued his game weren’t completely eliminated, but he found the perfect moment to leave his mark on the tournament, scoring the eventual winner in a tense game to lead his side into the final. That’s what everyone will remember.
Aerial strength – Umtiti did well to create a yard of space for himself for his goal, but what really stood out was the way he out-muscled Marouane Fellaini. That’s no mean feat.
Withstanding late pressure – As Belgium laid siege to the France goal, searching for a late equaliser, Umtiti stood firm. He was always in the right position to clear the danger and preserve his side’s lead.
Umtiti’s defending was again a little suspect, as it has been throughout this tournament. He nearly gifted Belgium a golden chance when he misread a cross completely, ultimately getting a fortunate nick on the ball to divert it behind Romelu Lukaku when he should have been clearing it with ease. Moments like that have far too frequent from the Barcelona man.
After centre-back partner Raphael Varane’s goal in the quarter-final, it was time for Umtiti to show up to the party. He’s had a shaky time at the back this summer – with a few more moments along those lines on Tuesday – but scoring the goal that puts his side into the World Cup final makes up for everything.
RATING – 8/10