And so it came to pass. Although, for "elite team," perhaps it would be more accurate to say "elite midfield." Ultimately that was the difference in the 2-1 extra-time semifinal loss to Croatia with Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic and Marcelo Brozovic running rings around England's engine room. Jordan Henderson, Dele Alli and Jesse Lingard are all fine players in their own way but ball-players in the class of their opponents they are not.
It's been a theme for some years, the sense that the English are way behind teams like Croatia and Spain -- their opponents in their two Nations League fixtures this weekend -- when it comes to ball possession, passing, creativity and general control of big games.
There have been repeated laments about the search for the "English Xavi," or perhaps now the "English Modric." It's part of the reason why many found it so difficult to let go of Jack Wilshere, the great hope of English tiki-taka, despite a career marked by inconsistency and injuries.But do England now have a generation of players coming through to solve that? The most eye-catching call-up to Gareth Southgate's latest squad was Jadon Sancho, but might the most significant be Mason Mount, James Maddison and Harry Winks?
To think any of those players will reach the genius of Xavi or Modric is to place unfair and undue pressure on a group of young men still learning their game, but a group of creative midfielders are coming through the ranks that at the very least fit the profile.
These are youngsters who have grown up watching the great European ball-players.
"David Silva and Philippe Coutinho, in that No. 10 role," said Maddison this week, when asked who he admires. "Players like that, I always try and take little things from their game and maybe add to mine."
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