Following the 2018 World Cup, a waistcoat shortage swept the nation. Marks & Spencer, a bulwark of civilization on these islands, saw its supply of the garments run dry in a manner that nobody could quite expect.
Of course, England’s historic suit deficit was caused by Gareth Southgate-mania.
At a time when ‘Three Lions’ and ‘Vindaloo’ were unironically played on national radio stations, the English public was infatuated with [delete as applicable] Sir/Lord/King Southgate.
However, the coach’s acclaim wasn’t to endure. Southgate’s popularity has taken hits in the years since England’s run to the semi-finals in Russia. Accused of wasting the attacking talent at his disposal, Southgate arrived at EURO 2020 to minimal fanfare.
The world has changed since Tuesday evening.
“To know you have given millions and millions of people happiness like that, after the year they’ve had… it’s special,” Southgate said in the aftermath of England’s historic win over Germany.
Make no mistake, the 50-year-old’s cult hero status is back.
And there are reasons to believe it could be here to stay ahead of this evening’s quarter-final clash between England and Ukraine in Rome.
Having defeated the Germans, Southgate’s squad is on a collision course with history.
If England survive tonight’s clash in Rome, they will return to London to contest their remaining game(s) on home soil with 60,000 fans in attendance.
Tactically, it is difficult to know what to expect from Ukraine at the Stadio Olimpico. Their 2-1 win over Janne Andersson’s Swedes in the round of sixteen saw Shevchenko combine caution, flair, and brute force.
West Ham’s Andriy Yarmolenko will be vital. The former Borussia Dortmund inside forward has dazzled audiences during EURO 2020 and opened his tournament with a wonderful goal against the Dutch.
Although Shevchenko has players at his disposal who can hurt England, the Three Lions remain clear favourites
Yarmolenko is, however, the most predictable player on the planet. Once handed possession, the 31-year-old will cut inside from the right and attempt to shoot on his left foot. Textbook. Every time.
Though, the same cannot be said of freewheeling Oleksandr Zinchenko. The Manchester City star has played in almost every position for his nation and was deployed as a wide midfielder against Sweden in the previous round. As expected for a player developed by Pep Guardiola, Zinchenko is a master of the psychological side of the game. His positional fluidity is unrivalled.
Joining the 24-year-old in midfield is likely to be Ruslan Malinovskyi. A key player in Gian Piero Gasperini’s Atalanta side, Malinovskyi was benched for Ukraine’s win over Sweden but has demonstrated his quality in bucket loads at EURO 2020.
Up front, towering KAA Gent forward Roman Yaremchuk could cause England difficulties. The 25-year-old has scored twice at EURO 2020, doubling his xG (expected goals) clip. Given his size and style, a head-to-head battle with Harry Maguire is likely. The winner will head to Wembley, the loser will go home.
Although Shevchenko has players at his disposal who can hurt England, the Three Lions remain clear favourites.
Raheem Sterling is in the form of his life. Although the Manchester City winger is single-minded in his approach (give Sterling the ball and he will dribble at goal), it has worked thus far. Moreover, the 26-year-old’s intelligent movement means that Ukraine must track him constantly. Sterling’s place in the XI is no longer a point of contention; he starts in Rome.
In defence, John Stones has been rock solid for England. In goal, Jordan Pickford has played the perfect tournament.
And even if Southgate’s starters fail him, the likes of Jadon Sancho, Phil Foden, and Jack Grealish will be waiting to be introduced from the bench.
If England can escape Rome unscathed, the Three Lions will be coming home for a semi-final at Wembley on Wednesday evening.
Gareth Southgate’s team has the opportunity to make history; they must grasp it.