Paul Stewart column: England offer signs of encouragement

England's defeat against Croatia was perhaps a wake-up call but Gareth Southgate could lead England to a brighter future
England's defeat against Croatia was perhaps a wake-up call but Gareth Southgate could lead England to a brighter future
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I thought I would write my first column reviewing England’s World Cup exploits and talk about VAR.

Whilst I, like most of the UK, got caught up in the “It’s coming home” factor, we have to analyse where we are as a team and what we really achieved?

The truth is that we cruised through the group stages without any sort of test and without playing teams of quality.

When we did face our real one test in the group against Belgium, even though we chose to rest players, we were found wanting.

As for the knockout stages, again one could not really class Sweden as a world- class team, which leaves us with our only real test against Croatia.

I think this game gave us a clear indication of where we are as a team and how far we have to go before we can really say we are a contender.

The truth is we were outclassed after the first 30 minutes and Croatia’s world- class players – such as Ivan Rakitic, Luka Modric and Mario Mandzukic – were the difference.

That said, there were some very encouraging signs.

And if Gareth Southgate is given the time needed to develop his team, then I really believe the future to be bright.

One thing I must commend the team and manager for is how well they conducted themselves both on and off the field.

Having played with Gareth at Crystal Palace when he was a young lad, I am not in the least bit surprised at this, as he showed his levelheadedness and composure at such a young age.

So I wish him all the success in the future and look forward to competing with the top teams in the Euros in 2020.

This now brings me to VAR.

One could argue that it was a success, especially with the antics that went on in the penalty area in our first game against Tunisia, which I believe led to the decisions for the penalties in our next game against Panama.

However, there were far too many inconsistencies through the tournament and decisions that were wrong.

This should not happen when you have four people reviewing from a central location and a referee who can also review if needed.

The penalty awarded to France in the final is a perfect example. In my opinion, it was never a pen.

However, the four VAR assistants could not agree and eventually passed the decision back to the ref, who then looked at the replay for some time, walked away and returned before awarding a penalty, which Antoine Griezmann scored to make it 2-1.

As an ex-player, I know that goals change games.

In my opinion, Croatia were dominating after they equalised and I thought may well have gone on to score the next goal.

But, as I said, goals change games and the award of the penalty completely changed the outcome.

If the referee was as unsure as he clearly was, then he should not have given the penalty.