Even on days like this, Luka Modric and his colleagues might wish to note, the English do not take themselves too seriously.
‘New England?’ said Gareth Southgate after seeing his side conquer yet another international superpower in a competitive match. ‘We’ve scored from a throw-in and a wide free-kick. Nothing changes.’
By then England’s fans had been treated to yet another blast of ‘It’s Coming Home’, which one suspects was played purely to poke fun at the same Croatians who accused England of arrogance during the summer.
From where they were before Gareth Southgate, England have shifted in their direction
Southgate watched on as his side retained their composure to come back and beat Croatia
As Modric and his colleagues trudged off the Wembley pitch, still trying to comprehend how they went from group winners to relegation in an insane second half, one imagines Skinner and Baddiel’s joke was lost on them again.
But when Southgate reflects on the 17 matches that have made up his 2018, a calendar year matched only by 1966 for the sheer number of England fixtures, there is real cause for optimism.
Sure, they have not scaled the heights of their glorious predecessors and nobody is about to declare them favourites for the Nations League finals next summer or the European Championship that follows 12 months later.
But under Southgate’s astute leadership this England side continue to make significant strides, not least in their ability to deliver consistently excellent performances.
More recent England sides have had their moments. That 5-1 victory in Munich. Theo Walcott’s hat-trick in Croatia.
National fortunes have begun to look up since Southgate was installed at the helm
But reaching a World Cup semi-final, winning in Spain, beating these World Cup finalists in another competitive match here at Wembley and topping what looked like a fiendishly difficult Nations League group has come in the space of a few months and it is mightily impressive.
Seville was no one-off. It was evidence to support Southgate’s claim that England have improved since progressing to the last four of a major tournament and it pointed to their ability to give the very best a game.
If Wayne Rooney is right and some former England players are jealous of the success these players are enjoying under Southgate, it must be matches like this that they crave. Matches when England play with daring and speed, class, composure and confidence.
Consider that performance against this Croatia team in Moscow in July and compare it to this. That day they enjoyed just 44 per cent of the ball and unleashed only half as many shots as their opponents, also securing half as many corners.
At Wembley they were the dominant team, with 62 per cent of the possession, 17 shots to Croatia’s 12 and nine corners to Croatia’s four, squandering as many good chances as they converted.
Even if the second half performance did not quite equal the breathless, at times quite brilliant action of the first – football, Matthew Upson said, that was faultless bar their failure to score an actual goal – it was the kind of performance that seemed way beyond the national side as recently as two years ago.
Southgate has a talented side at his disposal and has put faith in youth, such as Jadon Sancho
Now we marvel at the pace and fearlessness of Raheem Sterling and Marcus Rashford and then watch the England manager throw on yet more firepower in the form of players like Dele Alli, Jesse Lingard and the precociously gifted Jadon Sancho.
Now we see an England team that does not simply crack when their opponents nick a goal, but reassert themselves with two of their own.
There is room for improvement, of course. At times England remain frustratingly profligate and Southgate and Steve Holland will see that as an area that demands more attention.
But give these guys some credit for addressing the weaknesses that were exposed in Russia. For returning to a back four to give England more of a midfield presence. For promoting someone of the ilk of Ross Barkley in the search for more flair and invention up front. Not to mention the brave selection of Sancho, the first child of the new millennium to represent England.
They might have performed beyond all expectations in Russia but who seriously gave them a chance in a group comprising Spain and Croatia? Who considered this possible after defeat in that opening encounter with the Spanish?
Players such as Ross Barkley have regained their places in the squad, to England’s benefit
Southgate was understandably delighted on Sunday night. ‘I’m hugely proud of all the players and staff,’ he said. ‘We’ve grown together. We’ve improved every step. Today was another big occasion, big experience. There was plenty of pressure on the game, expectation.
‘But they coped with it really well. We played so well in the first half, and had good chances, and should have been ahead. Then we had to show another side, the resilience and character to stay in it.
‘That’s a significant step for us. We were very close against Spain here as well. The quality of the performances and the depth of the squad that has emerged. We had real options on the bench to change the game, and that’s a real shift over the last couple of months.’
Given where England were, it’s actually a seismic shift.