Graeme Souness thinks three England players lacked bravery in World Cup semi-final

Newcastle United v FK ZTS Dubnica

It's rare that England bow out of a major tournament with their heads held high, but that is what happened at the 2018 World Cup.

The Three Lions were knocked out with a 2-1 defeat to Croatia after extra time in the semi-finals.

Countless players enhanced their reputations, notably Kieran Trippier, Jordan Pickford, and Harry Maguire.

While Harry Kane was awarded the Golden Boot with six goals, Pickford would have picked up the Golden Glove had it not been for his side losing 2-0 to Belgium in the third-place play-off.

Such individual accolades are often scant consolation for players once their team has headed home without the main prize, of course, with Luka Modric admitting his Golden Ball was little comfort given Croatia's unsuccessful appearance in the final.

Nonetheless, it would have further proven just how impressive the Everton goalkeeper has been out in Russia.

The one aspect of his game which attracted criticism in the semi-final was his distribution, particularly as what had been a refreshingly fluid England side resorted to lumping the ball up the pitch in the later stages.

Souness singles out three players

Graeme Souness has picked up on the former Sunderland stopper's struggles in that department, but he has also made a crucial point about the defence failing to give Pickford options.

"The statistics I saw said that Jordan Pickford kicked the ball 47 times in the semi-final - which is way too many - and in only 22 of those clearances did he find a teammate, which is way too few," the Sky Sports pundit wrote in The Times.

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"My problem here is not really with the keeper but with those in front of him. Kyle Walker, John Stones and Harry Maguire were selected as the back three because they apparently had the skillset to play the ball out from the back.

"Yet when the pressure was on and they were pressed by the Croatians, they turned their backs on Pickford, forcing him to punt long.

There are certainly a couple of occasions in the footage below when that looked to be the case: 

"So often did they do this that the numbers on their shirts must now be indelibly etched on their keeper’s mind.

"When we talk about bravery and defenders, we invariably mean the courage to challenge for the ball in the air or on the ground.

"It was bravery of a different kind that was required against Croatia, however.

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"Where was the strength of character to demand possession, to have the nerve to bring the ball out and make the pass that helped England regain the initiative in the last half-hour of normal time or during extra time?"

A pretty damning assessment from Souness, though it's a frustration many English fans will have shared.

This World Cup will ultimately go down as an experience for what is still an inexperienced squad - their supporters will just have to hope they won't be resorting to these tactics again when the going gets tough. 

Do you agree with Souness? Have your say in the comments. 

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