Harry Maguire had endured a horrible season for Manchester United until the World Cup break, losing his place in the starting XI to Raphael Varane and Lisandro Martínez.
For Harry Maguire, in the way he dispelled serious doubts about his form, Qatar 2022 was a personal success.
Even against the world champions, the man who can’t make a Premier League start for his club barely had a chance. Maguire more than justified Gareth Southgate’s faith in him.
But for the Manchester United captain, this tournament failure, and it was a failure, hurt even more than the semi-final loss to Croatia in Russia 2018 and the Euro 2020 final to Italy. Why? Simple. Because the England players believed they would win the World Cup.
He says: “The hardest thing to accept, which is why I’m the most disappointed I’ve ever been, is that we thought we would win the tournament. That’s not arrogant. It’s the first tournament I’ve been to where the group of players that made it to the quarterfinals, went through and lost in a semifinal or a final wouldn’t have seemed good enough to us. It’s disappointing and we’re hurt.”
And Maguire knows that for all the talk about how well England played, the deciding factor was France being more clinical, albeit only twice.
He continues: “When you go into big games, you go in with a performance mindset. You take care of the performance and then hopefully the result takes care of itself.
“But sometimes it’s not like that. We were the best team, we created the most chances, we had more pressure, we controlled the ball. “But that’s how football is, especially tournament football. It’s about big moments in big moments. We didn’t take ours, they took theirs.”
But the consolation Maguire could cling to was that England had again reached the last stages of a tournament and eliminated the reigning world champions. He says: “I know we lost, but it’s probably the best performance we’ve had against a great team. They are the world champions and, for me, I feel that they are going to lift the cup.
“And if we’re being totally honest, we were much better than them in many areas. But they are the world champions for a reason and the reason is that they are clinical, they are ruthless, they are experienced.
“But one thing I would say about this group of guys that has now been proven is that we belong on this stage now. We belong to play these big games and we belong to play in these big knockout tournaments and we’ve shown it.”
And Maguire has shown that he still belongs at the top level, even if that’s the least bit of comfort.
He explains: “I’ve played every game and I’m proud of my mentality to prove myself again, I don’t need to prove myself to others, but right now I don’t look at myself, I look at myself.” the team and every time I wear this jersey, I want the team to do well. Listen, I would have preferred to have a bad match against France and go through.”