Gareth Southgate’s remodelled England await critical knockout test

Booed by their own fans a year ago, England will face Colombia with public warmth rekindled – and a plan for penalties

It was Sunday afternoon, in a beachfront hotel in Repino, and Gareth Southgate was thinking back to the night England qualified for the World Cup and one of those jarring occasions at Wembley – of which there have been a few – that somehow still feel so relevant when charting the trajectory of his team.

Southgate was reminiscing about a scratchy 1-0 win against Slovenia last October when the overriding memory was not Harry Kane’s late winner but the sour indifference of the crowd and the jarring sight of thousands of fans feeling it necessary to make their own entertainment – origami in this case. The paper planes that landed on the pitch felt like a symbol of the fans’ apathy. Jeers soon followed. “Bored spectators, paper planes and early exits – something is seriously wrong with this England team,” was one headline. And it was even worse, as Southgate could also remember, during England’s excursion to Malta the previous month when the opponents featured a centre-half from Ebbsfleet United and, for many of the travelling supporters, something snapped.

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