In what has been a memorable year for England fans, Three Lions boss Gareth Southgate has been looking back at some of the key games and moments from 2018.
With a total of 17 matches in 2018, it’s been a busy year for Southgate and his staff, as well as the players who have featured across those games.
And the year ended on a personal high for Southgate as he was named as Coach of the Year at the BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards, before he was granted an OBE in the New Year Honours list.
But as we head into 2019 and what we hope will be another year of progress for England, there are a few fixtures in particular which Southgate picked out to look back upon.
“It was the third match we had playing 3-5-2 and we played it slightly differently as we wanted to have a look at Kyle Walker in a back three because positionally, it’s pretty much what he plays at Manchester City, if you watch their build-up play in particular.
“Also, in the matches in the previous November, we’d played two forwards but we played with a nine and a ten this time and slightly more attacking number eights.
“Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, in those games, was very strong and Raheem as a number ten gave us a different dynamic in the way we were building up.
“It was the early stages for Ronald [Koeman] as he hadn’t had long been working with them and I felt they were dismissed a bit after the game, when I believed then and it’s since become apparent, that they’ve got some very good players.
“For us it was a really good exercise, to go away from home and win in a World Cup year is always important because we’re normally very strong at Wembley but you’re going to have to win matches outside your home country.”
“As soon as we got to the stadium, you could feel it. As good as playing for England at Wembley is, and it’s incredibly special, equally when we go on the road it’s an opportunity for people in other parts of the country to connect with the team and show their passion.
“The fans at Elland Road that night created an incredible atmosphere. What I particularly loved was they were a bit ‘urgh’ when Marcus Rashford got the ball early on, because this is Leeds.
“But then when he stuck one in the top corner after 15 minutes and had shown some fabulous bits of skill on the byline, the crowd got behind him and in the end were right with him.
“It just showed how the team were starting to cross those boundaries of club rivalries a little bit.”
“The bigger the game, the less you want to change the normality which we’d created and I think we could see after the opening five or ten minutes of the game against Tunisia that the team were in a good place.
“They were playing, they were brave on the ball from the back and creating chances, so I was really pleased because for an inexperienced team in terms of caps, they were into the flow of the tournament very quickly.
“We knew Tunisia had some good players and we talked about how it might take a long time, maybe 80 or 90 minutes, to win the game.
“Not everything goes right in these matches, so it’s about trying to prepare the players for that and making sure you stay calm in these moments, keep playing and doing what we’re good at.
“So it was great credit to the players as they didn’t rush or panic with the ball in the last ten or 15 minutes and in the end, fatigue can start to affect the opposition and we got the late goal which was really crucial for our progress through the tournament.
“It changed the narrative that we’re a team who don’t win those sort of games and it relieved the pressure for the next five or six days ahead of Panama.
“It gave us an opportunity to progress after two matches of a tournament and not go into our third game needing points to get through, so you breathe a little easier in the camp.
“It was the pivotal game in whether the tournament would be viewed as a successful one, or we’d be stuck with still no knockout win for over a decade.
“I think it was a really brilliant experience for the players, with so many Colombian fans in the ground. It wasn’t an away game but not quite a neutral venue either.
“To then have to deal with a late equaliser, extra time, penalties; in terms of building belief and experiences that stay with you, they were massive landmarks in our progress.
“Going into penalties, we felt well prepared which gave us a calmness about what we were doing and even though we lost the toss, which statistically makes things harder, we then missed one, which statistically makes things harder, I always had a belief we would come through that.
“I’d had my own personal history in that area and experienced the other side of it, so to be on the winning team, not just for this team but for future teams, in building belief and starting to lift that stigma, it was a really critical moment.”
“It was another huge occasion and our record against Sweden over a long period of time was pretty disastrous.
“So it’s almost the game that’s overlooked when we look back at the World Cup.
“But it was a phenomenal performance really, for the players to dismantle Sweden because we were pretty comfortable and creating chances.”
“The first hour of that performance was very strong. We were brave enough to play when we had the ball and our front three were devastating in their counter-attacking and finishing.
“And then we had to dig in a bit as well and show another side to our game and the last 30 minutes wasn’t perfect by any means, but the overall performance and quality of chances we had, we just about deserved the win.
“So to go to Spain, who were the form team at that time in Europe, that was huge for our belief and our progress.”
“We had started to get better against Croatia in each performance and we’d changed system by this point which gave us a new impetus.
“I’ve not heard Wembley behind the team as passionately as that for a long time and that had an effect on the players.
“There was real resilience to come from a goal behind and to then stay patient in order to score a late winning goal, which has become a little bit of a pattern for us and that’s important.
In summary and looking into 2019...
“For me, it’s been a year of real progress. I don’t say success, but in some respects it has been, because it’s certainly been the best year since 1990 and given the Nations League fixtures being so tough, that’s been an extra dimension to it.
“But it’s definitely been a year of progress and that was encapsulated not only by that result against Croatia, but the way that we played.
“That’s the style of play which the public are starting to associate with this team.
“For us now, it’s about building on what we’ve done and there’s a good base to work from.
“We can never be complacent, we’ve gone from 15th in the world to fifth and we’ve got to work harder to go from fifth to first which will be harder than those previous ten spaces because the quality of teams is so high.
“We’re on a good trajectory and we’ve got to constantly look at how we can get better in big matches next summer.
“These are brilliant opportunities for us and in life, when you have these opportunities, you’ve got to be ready for them.”