Every international creates moments that live long in popular memory.
With England tinted spectacles on, the mind is immediately drawn to Geoff Hurst’s heroics in 1966, Paul Gascoigne’s tears in 1990 and Kieran Trippier’s free kick in 2018.
Less than ten minutes into the Three Lions’ Euro 2020 campaign we almost had another feel good moment to jot down in the history books. The man at the centre of it was Phil Foden.
With England on the counter Raheem Sterling spotted the run of Foden and rolled it into his path. Swiftly manoeuvring the ball onto his favoured left foot, he opened up his body and curled a shot towards the bottom corner.
As soon as the ball left his boot the nation held its collective breath. Despite millions of supporters in living rooms, pubs and fan parks across the country willing the strike home, it heartbreakingly clattered off the inside of the post.
England fans have been deprived of the unifying joy of tournament football for a year too long. Had that strike from the silver blonde maestro nestled in the bottom corner, that wait would have seemed well worth it.
In the end, Foden’s near miss would not matter with the 20,000+ squinting faces inside Wembley and the many more watching at home witnessing England secure a deserved 1-0 win. They even got their iconic moment, courtesy of a delicious combination between Kalvin Phillips and Sterling. The strike was the latter’s first ever in a major tournament.
Foden’s performance was not just that of a nearly man, though. Due to his incredible talent it is often easy to forget that Foden is just 21 years old. The Croatia game was his first ever taste of tournament football and he handled the occasion with typical composure.
On the ball he was close to faultless, completing 24 of his 25 passes. In the sizzling London heat, Foden’s combinations with Mason Mount, Harry Kane and Phillips were important as they allowed his side to rest in possession.
What was even more impressive was his instigation of the press in the first half. England were clearly aiming to disrupt Croatia’s makeshift backline and it worked for periods in the first half. Foden was often the player to lead this waspish work off the ball, willing his colleagues to get up alongside him.
His display was not perfect, of course. Foden will be disappointed not to have affected things on the ball a bit more – he failed to create a single chance – but he remained disciplined, performed his role to perfection and helped England to their first ever win in an opening game of a European Championship.
No wonder he was the first selection for the Our 21 series.