England's arrival in Russia and increasingly-plausible extradition of football has us all framing the Great Game in rather imperial ways. In that spirit, perhaps it is in step with recent vicissitudes of time that this world domination is led by a man as corporate, sensible and outwardly pleasing a technocrat as Gareth Southgate.
Southgate is not your traditional English manager, committed as he is to not wearing sleeves, presumably in case he might accidentally wear his heart on them. Rather than try to impose the lofty Engish ideal of 4-4-fackin'-2 on the tournament, Southgate has taken the best ideas brought to England by foreign coaches and melded them to his own benefit. This, along with the fact he had virtually no standard to live up to before the tournament, has yielded more good vibes than England have produced at a tournament in yonks.
Add to all of that an exceptionally soft series of opponents and the result is a World Cup semi-final.
Perhaps Southgate learned the folly of imposing a certain set of ideals that must then be lived up to from George Orwell, who skewered it all in his essay Shooting an Elephant.
So in every crisis he [the white man] has got to do what the "natives" expect of him. He wears a mask, and his face grows to fit it. I had got to shoot the elephant. I had committed myself to doing it when I sent for the rifle.
To come all that way, rifle in hand, with two thousand people marching at my heels, and then to trail feebly away, having done nothing — no, that was impossible. The crowd would laugh at me. And my whole life, every white man's life in the East, was one long struggle not to be laughed at.
This brings us to another man who has long since known that he should never be so consistent as to set a standard against which he would he might be judged: Eamon Dunphy. Eamo has had many guises: Failed Second Division Footballer; Friend and Biographer of Roy Keane; No Friend and Estranged Biographer of Roy Keane; Spanish Football Expert.
Today he assumed another role: England fan.
I hope England win, Darragh. England is special! I'm shouting for them.
He is, at least, consistently inconsistent. In fact, Dunphy showed as much if not more jubilation about England's win that anyone on the BBC, which admittedly owed much to the remarkable lack of jeopardy about England's win.
Such a soporific spectacle made a tough afternoon's work for BBC commentator Guy Mowbray, who was given the job of delivering a series of aphorisms to encapture and enrapture a nation.
"THIS IS THE STUFF OF DREAMS FROM THE THREE LIONS" roared Mowbray as Dele Alli sealed the game; For many of you at home, this will be the best football experience of your life" fell from his throat a few minutes later; "You do forget that you are watching... Gareth Southgate's England dominate a World Cup quarter-final" followed a few minutes later.
"There will be some people at home reading a book at the moment...tell them to get a life" thundered Her Majesty's Keown, randomly.
These would all have been fitting in a game in which, y'know, the opposition might actually be capable of scoring a goal, but Mowbray's declarations were always undermined by the intrusion of the reality of just how lousy the Swedes were.
This was lost on the Beeb afterward, mind. If they didn't go overboard in their praise of England, they went out of their way not to call out Sweden for the feckless, limited opposition they were. "Some critics - well, non-English people - will say that England got the easy side of the draw", devil's advocated Lineker in that weary and banal way, already knowing the answer.
Ferdinand scoffed, saying that "there are no easy games in a World Cup quarter-final".
This is untrue.
Over on RTE, Liam Brady said as much. "They're not good" was Brady's pithy summation of the Swedes, saying that Croatia will prove to be too good for a "very average England team".
England Fan Eamo would not allow such a slight go ignored. Dunphy, having spent a punditry career saying things that You Couldn't Get Away With On The BBC, pulled a u-turn. And he deployed the quintessential Irish weapon to do so.
I would say that's a bit begrudging, Liam.
Brady clarified that he was no begrudger, and the pair ended by agreeing to have a bet on England's chances against Croatia, with Eamo on the side of Albion.
Eamo is utterly in thrall to this achievement by Southgate and his players, and stressed the fact that all of these players have overcome a series of major setbacks to get here. Some of these were true (Harry Maguire being relegated at Hull; Harry Kane being farmed out on loan) and some of these were untrue (Jesse Lingard can't get into the Man United team, and that Pogba plays instead).
That all being said, when Darragh Maloney pointed out that Harry Kane's genius may partly be down to his Irish roots Eamo The England Fan couldn't fully shake one of his eternal personas.
"We could've had Harry Kane... but would've had him playing centre-half".
- Some hideous "football coming home" riffs by Guy Mowbray. "Football's headed home!" was the response to Maguire's headed goal, but none were quite as bad as the "football may not be coming home just yet...but it's readying a backpack" as the game dwindled to a close.
- But none of these were quite as bad as his closing remarks, as he quoted, eh, THE BLACK EYED PEAS. "I have a feeling that tonight is going to be a good night".
- Gary Lineker went all Con Houlihan in saying that he felt he was missing what was going on at home, shacked up as he was in an expensive studio in Moscow.
- Liam Brady's best tournament performance thus far, which included a dig at Boris Johnson. "There should be 20,000 more England fans out there, but didn't go because Boris Johnson warned them not to. If they win this, he'll never be Prime Minister".
- Keith Andrews turned up in a waistcoat, which Eamo joked was a tribute to Gareth Southgate.
- Apres Match Rating - 6/10.
Tweets of the Day
Imagine they get those kids in the cave out safely told they are going to the World Cup final and that England are in it #idgobackin
— david henderson (@dvehendo) July 7, 2018
Yeah so a good header doesn’t hurt. I mean the moment you head it proper, you feel it’s a good one. Know what I mean love? pic.twitter.com/a5b8UqDjv2
— Kyle Walker (@kylewalker2) July 7, 2018