The pain etched across Dan Ashworth’s face spoke a thousand words. If he was playing poker, he would have lost his hand.

Recounting England’s painful World Cup semi-final defeat to Croatia nearly two years ago, The FA’s then-technical director looks up to the ceiling in anguish as if searching for words to describe the loss, before saying: “They reckon semi-finals are the worst games to lose, don’t they?”

Now performing the same role at Premier League side Brighton & Hove Albion, Ashworth spoke to UCFB about the Russia 2018 experience and what could have been. Did he think England were going to win the competition following their unforgettable ride to the last four?


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“I thought we could”, he admitted. “Croatia, France… there was still some good teams left in it, but I thought we could. We were playing well, we had goals in us, had found a niche from set-plays and had won on penalties.”

Going onto list what England achieved that summer, it feels like Ashworth is still trying to work out why the Three Lions didn’t win it.

He said: “There were lots of things we were knocking over – the pressure of winning a knockout game; the pressure of winning on penalties; the pressure of winning the opening game in the last minute, we had done it. We were knocking things over as we were going and we were thinking ‘this could be our year.’”

Ashworth, who was responsible for helping to create the ‘England DNA’ which has helped bring great success to the nation’s youth teams, added: “The draw opened up a bit as well, didn’t it? No disrespect to any of the countries we played along the way, but it could have been worse from a FIFA rankings and a tournament experience point of view.”

After helping England reach only their third World Cup semi-final, Ashworth rightly remains proud of what he and the team achieved that summer under the leadership of Gareth Southgate.

“I’m fiercely proud of what that team did”, he said. “It inspired the nation. The messages we received when we were over there… you don’t realise until you get back home just the impact it had. I was really proud to be a part of that.”

Dan Ashworth was talking to Mark Clemmit as part of the UCFB Insight Series.