Im­ma­tu­rity let young play­ers down, but time

Belfast Telegraph - - SPORT - BY JONATHAN LIEW

WHO­EVER was in charge of the sound sys­tem at the Luzh­niki Sta­dium had both a keen ear for pathos and sense of tim­ing.

As the stands emp­tied and the vic­to­ri­ous Croa­t­ians fil­tered down the tun­nel, the last re­main­ing pocket of England fans were treated to the strains of Don’t Look Back In Anger by Oa­sis, that other great bit­ter­sweet gui­tar an­them from the sum­mer of rather than con­dem­na­tory.

The true mea­sure of whether England is gen­uinely ma­ture enough to ac­cept de­feat with good grace will be if the front of good­will can hold.

Ma­tu­rity as a per­son is the abil­ity to recog­nise emo­tion with­out be­ing en­slaved by it. This, in many ways, was England’s great­est tri­umph in Rus­sia. Foot­balling ma­tu­rity, on the other hand, is some­thing very dif­fer­ent. It comes not with a sound up­bring­ing and a benev­o­lent cul­ture, but only through long, hard years in the game.

But there’s a men­tal side to it, as well. Spot­ting an op­po­nent who might be los­ing con­cen­tra­tion, or a team-mate who seems just a lit­tle too ex­citable. Recog­nis­ing when a game is turn­ing against you, or when the tac­ti­cal weather has changed, and ad­just­ing ac­cord­ingly.

Croa­tia had it. England didn’t. Croa­tia didn’t go on the blitz in search of an equaliser. They sim­ply raised the tem­per­a­ture, in­cre­ment by in­cre­ment: kept pass­ing the ball, kept ask­ing

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