Alternate Reality: How England would’ve fared in the 2018 World Cup final

It's been a year since England lost to Croatia in the World Cup semi-final. Here's how things might have played out if they'd made it through

gareth southgate world cup semi-final


It’s the hope that kills you, and for more than an hour against Croatia in the 2018 World Cup semi-final, England had just that.

Kieran Trippier’s free-kick, a half time lead, a confident performance – the chants of “It’s coming home” were shedding their irony by the minute.

Of course, we know what happened next. Ivan Perišić brought Croatia level, Mario Mandžukić completed the job in extra-time, and England had to make do with a third-place play-off that no one really wanted.

But what if they’d held on? How might things have looked then?

July 11

Referee Cüneyt Çakır blows the final whistle at the Luzhniki and England are through to the final!

As soon as Harry Kane doubled the lead just before half-time, there was no coming back for Croatia. After the drama of the Colombia penalty shoot-out win, the last two games have been comfortable and some are even making Gareth Southgate’s team the favourites for the final.

July 12

David Baddiel, Frank Skinner and Ian Broudie sit on the BBC Breakfast sofa, explaining some of their new lyrics for their Three Lions 2018 rewrite.

They discuss the decision to omit certain tournaments, with Skinner explaining to Dan Walker that it was difficult to find a rhyme for Kolbeinn Sigthorsson’s name.

July 13

A who’s who of British celebrities put out a message in support of Our Brave Boys.

July 14

A tabloid runs a double-page spread chastising Raheem Sterling for responding to the message of support in the wrong manner, featuring an exclusive interview with a random member of the public who saw him crossing the street once.

July 15 – Game Day

England make just one change to the starting line-up, with Jack Butland replacing Jordan Pickford after the Everton goalkeeper was given a second yellow card for time-wasting at the end of the semi-final.

3 mins: Jesse Lingard breaks free and lofts a ball forward to Dele Alli, who has got in behind the last defender. The Tottenham man displays sumptuous chest control before acrobatically volleying the ball beyond his club team-mate Hugo Lloris. The fans in the stadium go wild, while all across England, pints are thrown into the air in celebration. Alli thumps his chest as he runs over to embrace Gareth Southgate.

4 mins: VAR check; goal disallowed.

15 mins: Raheem Sterling is tripped in the box by Benjamin Pavard and the referee points to the spot. Up steps Harry Kane… saved by Lloris, and he’s beaten Kane to the rebound too.

18 mins: Kane has been moving gingerly for a few minutes now, it looks like he tweaked something stretching for that rebound. He gets some treatment on the side of the pitch but tells the coaching staff he’s okay to continue.

19 mins: A long ball over the top from John Stones, and Kane’s clean through. If he can just… oh he’s pulled up injured.

20 mins: England substitution: Rashford for Kane

26 mins: Jordan Henderson gets robbed in midfield by N’Golo Kanté and France break forward in numbers. Kanté though to Matuidi, up to Mbappé, across for Griezmann… 1-0 France.

27 mins: Paul Pogba spots Butland off his line and goes for it from 40 yards. Surely he can’t score from… oh wow, that’s the goal of the tournament right there. Pogba stands just outside the centre circle, arms outstretched, as his team-mates run to embrace him. Harry Kane is seen openly weeping in the stands.

32 mins: Corner for England. Kieran Trippier swings it in and it’s cleared as far as Kylian Mbappé, who runs 70 yards before being wiped out by Butland. It’s a red card for the England keeper and a free-kick for France just outside the box.

34 mins: Nick Pope is called into action immediately, saving Pogba’s low free-kick.

45 mins: Half-time, and surely it’s game over.

46 mins: England make their final change, with Danny Rose replacing Jesse Lingard. They’re just going to try to keep it tight now and avoid embarrassment. Well, further embarrassment.

60 mins: France are just passing the ball back between their defenders now. One commentator makes a comment about 2-0 being a dangerous scoreline but can’t even find the energy to complete that thought.

63 mins: My word! Hugo Lloris has just tried to dribble past Marcus Rashford, only for the striker to stick out a leg and divert the ball into the net. It’s hard to believe a goalkeeper could make an error like this in a World Cup final. Game on?

65 mins: Maybe not. Griezmann rattles one against the post from 20 yards. England must wish they hadn’t made France angry.

85 mins: Rose slides a hopeful ball through, and Raphaël Varane slips. Sterling’s in, squeezes it through the keeper and it dribbles over the line. The stadium erupts. England are level!

86 mins: VAR check: the goal stands.


90 mins: France have a corner. Swung in to the near post and headed goalwards… was that a handball?

90+1: It was. Kieran Trippier palmed away Umtiti’s header. They’ll check VAR but it doesn’t look like good news.

90+3: The check’s over. It’s a penalty and a red for Trippier.

90+4: Paul Pogba begins his run-up 35 yards from goal, taking a full minute to get to the ball. Pope dives early and Pogba slots the ball into an unguarded net.

90+5: One last chance for England. Rashford stretches out a leg and sends the ball against the underside of the bar. Did it cross the line… no. The full-time whistle blows and the England players slump to the turf.

What? You thought this would be a feel-good ending?

England are 10/1 to win the 2022 World Cup

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