Never throw anything away. It was the lesson from this fun late England victory. On an unexpected epic afternoon in Wembley, Croatia was struck by an England 2.0 team who decided to mash the hair, throwing the portfolio out of the window, creating a little chaos with long throws and free kick. and win in the end a bit like England 1.0.
It was a wonderful listing of theater about the finish line. When the sun was under the lip of the Wembley ceiling, England was 1-0 then, at 1-1, five minutes from humiliation for the first time in its history – and, in fact, at the first time. A weak wild attacking surge later and England march now instead of (it says here) Portugal for a semifinal against who's decade's Uefa draw at the football stadium (AKA Shelbourne Hotel in Dublin) decides to throw.
Yes, that's the good Old Nations League. And yes, there will be a standard reflex to scramble the competition, to suggest that there is something a little drawn about this strange little Euro mini league.
Never imagine everything for now though. On a bright, bellicose afternoon, England's 2-1 win three key notes of happiness. First, it is considered the best England moment in just over 10 years at the new Wembley, a rare old blossom of shared euphoria for a crowd that has often been grizzly and disaffected.
International football needs these moments, expressing its own importance. Without this, it quickly loses its way. The amount was especially young, skinned and undamaged by all the boring days that looked at boring teams hit by Premier League players, the real threat to the continued relevance of this football form. Memories were made here, snapshots of happiness cut and preserved. They will be back for more.
There was also a hidden note of Katarsis after the disappointments of the World Cup, a strangely worrying little glimpse of how it could have been. At the final whistle, Croatia's players dropped to the grass. St George's flags waved. Gareth Southgate hit the air and gathered himself a little self-conscious. Football's coming home boomed over PA.
Finally and most importantly, there was evidence of how difficult Southgate has worked to trim the edges of an already successful team. It was there in England's record, although it did not burn at first. Last time England played Croatia, the midfield was finally exceeded, Jordan Henderson asked to gallop again after Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic as a faithful old horse contesting his daily circuit in the backfield.
Here Southgate lowered five months late for the double midfield shield and protects a flat back four with Eric Dier and Fabian Delph, England's midfield, equivalent to a pair of pony-stripped men. Ross Barkley played well for 10 minutes, then faded, but his presence was also sensible. The lack of invention in the midfield was an obvious mere at the World Cup. There was a dear here too but Barkley can offer creativity and started before Sharing Alli. Southgate has talked about being ruthless, showing his prisoners, trying to promote a constant revolution. That's what winning team does.
Still England fought for a while, stuck in the old-set attacking patterns. With 25 minutes they had 70% of possession, made twice as many passes and had seven shots for Croatia's three. But once again they looked like a team full of keen running, well bored in their passage and movement, but lacked the small element of high-quality creative mongrel.
One of the criticisms of this generation of refined, academically fed England players has been the lack of a more instinctive razor edge. They said something similar in Germany before their own well-educated generation won the World Cup. For a while, it may have been the story: the same story as before, which in itself is a very English story.
Croatia continued on Andrej Kramaric. The prospect of another almost-but-not-completely awakened. At what time happened something else. England threw away the custody, Southgate brought an 18-year-old winger in the last 17 minutes. In the end, England had five attacking players and a pair of flying backbacks on the pitch and had fielded 11 players under 25 years. When they threw everything they had in Croatia's defense, often without much precision, one half expected one of Wembley's hospitality's carbon gray graphite composite catering sinks to come hurtling out through the club Wembley windows. Jesse Lingard, a part, got the equalizer. Kane poke a significant winner, his 20th goal in his 35th match.
And so England is heading to Porto or Guimarães just as both Porto and Guimaraes may have already had a tune and had some furtive thoughts about the prospects that England fans turn up for a week in early June next year for their first double title after Brexit . After that, Southgate England could have kicked back from here to find new shapes and new shapes, but hopefully, as they did here, they were somewhat old and pleasantly plagued to go with the boy of the new era.