World Cup 2018: What Gareth's boys can learn from the only England side to win a semi

1966 world cup action
Black and white memories from England's 1966 triumph
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Betfair's roving reporter Ralph Ellis dips into his childhood memory banks with some pointers for England's date with destiny against Croatia...

"Jordan Henderson is going to be our key player, restricting space for Luka Modric to work in just as Stiles did for Eusebio back then. But we’ll probably also need Jordan Pickford to be in the same sort of brilliant form he was on Saturday afternoon."

It was the summer of '66 and for three weeks I was the most popular boy in the school. Everybody wanted to be my friend.

I'd like to claim it was because I was the best footballer, or knew the most about all the mysterious and fascinating players from all over the world who had arrived in England. Truth was it was because my dad owned a television, and not too many others did. They all wanted an invite to Chez Ellis, the chance to sit on the carpet in front of a black and white screen and share in a momentous event.

So I ended up watching the whole, glorious competition in our front room with mum and dad plus an assortment of other ten-year-olds who were such friends for life that I can't remember any of their names now!

What I do remember, when we're talking about World Cup semi-finals, is that our last four meeting with Portugal was arguably the best performance by England of the entire tournament.

That Portugal side, led by the brilliant Eusebio who finished up as the Golden Boot winner with nine goals, was breathtakingly magnificent. While Bobby Charlton was the hero of the hour thumping home two trademark long range goals, it was arguably the night when Nobby Stiles had his best game to keep Eusebio under control.

Sir Alf's side laid down the template

It was a performance that had everything: strong defence, tough but creative midfield, hard-working and inventive forwards who never let the Portuguese defence settle to start building attacks. Even when Eusebio got a late penalty to make it 2-1, I don't recall it being especially nail-biting towards the finish - although maybe that's the confidence that only a 10-year-old can have!

Now here we are, 52 years later, with all the World Cup joy, pain and heartache in the meantime, and we're in a World Cup semi-final again. No, I never thought that after 1990 I'd see another one either.

My little grandson Jamie is particularly proud that he's allowed to stay up and watch it, even though it's a school night. Only one other boy in his class will be able to, he tells me.

So my biggest concern is that England get through, if only to make sure his little heart doesn't get broken, like his dad's did when he was six and just falling in love with football but the Germans won that Italia 90 shoot-out.

To do it they need to follow Sir Alf's template. Every part of the team doing their bit from strong defence through tough but creative midfield to goal scoring attack.

Henderson will be the key

Nothing less than that will be good enough against this Croatia team, not if England are going to justify odds of [1.68] to qualify for Sunday's final.

I think Jordan Henderson is going to be our key player, restricting space for Luka Modric to work in just as Stiles did for Eusebio back then. But we'll probably also need Jordan Pickford to be in the same sort of brilliant form he was on Saturday afternoon.

Just like in '66, when Sir Alf was under pressure to recall Jimmy Greaves, I wouldn't change the team at all. I think Raheem Sterling has made a big contribution in every game he's played so far, and I also think Dele Alli's goal will have done his confidence the world of good.

So fingers crossed for an England win, and then everybody round to our place on Sunday to watch the final. It's 1966 all over again.

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