Gareth Southgate allowed himself a little fist pump celebration.
The Italian Job well and truly done after Harry Kane scored England’s third goal with a header which nutmegged Ukraine keeper Georgiy Bushchan.
Getting nutmegged by a header. That must be a first. It really was England’s night, a night when they and their manager could do nothing wrong.
That has been a long time coming for Southgate to convince all of the fans but now the key word in the conversation is trust. They trust his decisions. They trust his tactics. They trust his changes.
It will surely not be long before they give him his own special hashtag. #garethknows
England made it look easy against Ukraine. By the time Jordan Henderson scored – his first ever for his country – England’s fourth, Southgate had switched mode to thinking about what changes to make next to keep his players fresh and ready for the semi final.
Southgate is just in that wonderful moment that all managers crave of getting the big calls right. Just as he did again in Rome.
Southgate rolled the dice again, brought in Jadon Sancho into England’s three man attack, brought back Mason Mount after his enforced Covid isolation and reverted to a back four.
It worked perfectly, England were in cruise control by the second half as they clinched a semi final against Denmark and they are now just 90 minutes from reaching their first major tournament final since 1966.
It has rarely felt this easy for England. Rarely so calm, so controlled and the goal rush against Ukraine will leave them full of confidence, full of belief and full of hope that football is coming home.
The England job has always been the impossible job because everyone has an opinion, everyone thinks they know better and everyone thinks they could do it.
But Southgate has stuck to his principles, navigated his way through the tournament, stayed calm when people were crying for England to be more expansive and more attacking.
It was doom and gloom in some circles after the Scotland game but Southgate remained positive, remained loyal and never changed his beliefs.
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They doubted him when he picked Kieran Trippier at left back in the opening game. They doubted him when he switched to a back three against Germany. They doubted him when he showed so much faith in Kalvin Phillips.
But, finally, Southgate has the trust of the nation. He has long had the respect of the nation for the way he and his waistcoat helped the England team reconnect with the fan base.
The way he conducts himself off the pitch, almost statesmanlike with the way he talks and instills a national pride in playing for England. Something that had disappeared under previous regimes.
So when he pulls off a surprise, like bringing in Sancho for his first start of the tournament, the England fans now accept that he knows what he is doing. Sancho was lively and did his job.
Mount is every manager’s dream because he works so hard allied to his skill and technical ability. You rarely get such industry in a flare player. No-one is now moaning when Mount gets picked over Jack Grealish.
This tournament is so demanding, so gruelling after such a hard domestic season that every manager was going to have to make changes as it would be impossible to win it with the same starting line-up for every game.
But Southgate has got every change right. He has shown great faith in Raheem Sterling and he has been England’s best player in this tournament. He backed Kane and now he will believe he can win the Golden Boot after three goals in his last two games.
Now they will believe. And they believe because of Southgate. He has earned the trust and faith of a nation.