On the sideline, in acres of space, Phil Foden raised his arm. He stood like that for a few seconds, hoping someone would see him, before he started waving at her.
Yet there was no acknowledgment, so Foden grew increasingly animated, stretching both arms out and holding them out like an eager schoolboy would when he knows the answer to a question but can’t draw the attention of his teacher.
Only 10 minutes had been played, but already he seemed consumed by dread. Michael Sheen, in his gloriously evocative speech which went viral, roared that Wales would bring “crimson thunder”, but the only thing crimson and thunderous here was the look on Foden’s face.
Phil Foden scored his first World Cup goal for England by tapping into Harry Kane’s low cross
The Manchester City striker is not someone who wastes his words, never using two sentences when one will suffice, but he would make a terrible card player as his emotions are written big on his face, his big eyes a window to his soul.
It might seem like an obvious thing to say, but Foden is someone who just loves football and doing creative things and maybe this little story will give you an indication of the kind of enthusiasm he has for the game.
During the European Under-21 Championships in 2019, then-head coach Aidy Boothroyd gave his players a day off while in Italy to try to recover from a a defeat against France. Some members of the team, including James Maddison and Mason Mount, went shopping, others went for coffee.
Foden, on the other hand, spent his time playing football with his younger siblings in the back garden of a villa his family had rented. He was so obsessed with having a ball at his feet and doing tricks and techniques that by the end of the afternoon his t-shirt was dripping with sweat.
“Once you step onto the pitch, everything else disappears,” Foden said in an interview published in this month’s edition of Squire magazine. “In my head it’s like ‘it’s time to show everyone what I can do’. I thought I was good at ignoring everything.
Foden has always been obsessed with football and having a ball at his feet, which shows
It would have been impossible for him to ignore, however, the debate that has raged since Gareth Southgate failed to feature him in last Friday’s charmless 0-0 draw with the United States at Al Khor, a decision that – even by English standards – was met with monstrous opprobrium.
Southgate is past the point of worrying about public opinion over the decisions he makes; damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t he hasn’t increased the barbs and snipes and the way he handled the most gifted young English footballer since Wayne Rooney.
Even still, it was fascinating to hear Southgate explain at length why Foden had not come to Al Khor and lay out his concerns that the weight of expectations might be inhibiting. Unlike some of his critics, Southgate thinks before he speaks and does nothing to jeopardize their progress.
He would then have been sure that Foden was ready to face Wales and would certainly not have included him in the starting line-up as a populist choice. The England No.20 was on the go as Southgate knew the kind of damage he could inflict.
In that exhausting first period, however, you could see the frustration rising inside. The arm ripple became more pronounced, the face contorted in anguish on more than one occasion – most obviously in the 40th minute when he burst into the area in an attempt to find a breakthrough.
Foden had a visibly frustrating first half as he continued to call the ball but got no reward
Marcus Rashford dashed into the box but missed his cross completely, allowing the Wales defenders to clear. Foden looked like he wanted to cry in frustration, knowing that an accurate cross would have presented a tap from six yards out.
Returning, he exited on the right wing, again standing in space, waiting to see if anything came his way.
When the whistle sounded for the break, he walked into the locker room alone and it would have taken a brave man to talk to him.
He was watching how everyone felt: England were going back and forth, painful side, but never in the area that would have left a cumbersome Welsh side breathless. Foden knew this was a game he could leave his fingerprints on, but all he wanted was a serve.
Then came the switch that changed everything. Rashford moved on the right, Foden moved on the left and England were a different beast in the second half, allowing this little Stockport magician to show what he could do.
Marcus Rashford and Foden swapping wings at half-time worked wonders with both goals
When Rashford opened the scoring with a very nice free kick, Foden ran with the celebrating crowd and saw his family in the crowd, blowing kisses and waving at them in the manner of someone who couldn’t really believe he was living a childhood dream.
The reason Foden is on this stage, however, is that his ability is monstrous and on the next attack he had his first World Cup goal coming in at the far post to deliver the finish that a cross from Harry Kane demanded before celebrating with gleeful abandon. .
Foden didn’t need to score a goal to remind us of what he can do and Southgate didn’t need to pick him to prove the esteem in which they hold him but, without a doubt, this performance in second period will have made them both power. good.
No one should get carried away by England’s chances of world domination, but they will face Senegal this weekend with brimming confidence – Foden more than anyone.
The Manchester City youngster will be brimming with confidence ahead of the next round