It’s an exciting time for England fans. They find themselves stuck between cautiously taking each stage of the tournament as it comes and getting completely carried away with the prospect of England actually winning the World Cup.
There is a question though, as to whether people are actually getting ahead of themselves when stating that winning the World Cup is a genuine possibility. Speaking completely theoretically, if England do progress to the Final, they will do so via one of the most straightforward routes seen for some time.
It was a subject that split pubs down the middle last week, when people debated whether it would be beneficial for England to lose to Belgium, come second in the group, which would pave a golden pathway to the final. As we saw, the two B-teams were split by a Januzaj wonder-strike, which decided which road England would take.
Now, separating England and the World Cup final in Moscow a week on Sunday are Columbia, a quarter final with Sweden or Switzerland and, more likely than not, a semi-final clash with Croatia.
This list of potential fixtures, on paper at least, has England fans very excited indeed, mainly due to the fact that coming second in their Group means they’d have avoided any of the ‘big boys’, in the tournament’s latter stages.
Bizarrely, this too seems out of the equation, after Spain were knocked out of the tournament by the hosts on Sunday afternoon, which added more fuel to the optimistic England fan’s fire.
There’s no doubt that Croatia have been one of the more impressive sides in the 2018 World Cup, however, most England fans will tell you they’d rather go toe-to-toe with Luca Modric and Co. than a would-be, in-form, Spain.
England’s potential path to the final looks much smoother than it has done for years and ignoring the Belgium game, doubters are forgetting that this time around, they are actually playing well – It’s not as if Southgate’s men are in a similar state to Jorge Sampaoli‘s disgruntled Argentina side who needed all the help they could get when it came to the knock-outs.
No, this England side is full of confidence and morale is high – Southgate’s men truly believe they could give any side a run for their money. Time will only tell, but England’s time in the tournament may have been shorter if they finished above Belgium; but that being said, they’d relish the opportunity to go up against any country on the other side of the draw, with the intention to compete with (at the very least), or conquer, the very best. Try telling Harry Kane he can’t mix it against the best sides in the Tournament.
It may be presumptuous to think England are going to the World Cup final, but the huge obstacles of Spain and Germany are no longer in their way, so an appearance in the final is now a reality, rather than an intoxicated fantasy.
It could be argued that if a side simply makes it to the World Cup, then reaching the final is always a reality, but England fans will tell you from previous experience that this is hardly ever the case. You can understand the concerns of people like Alan Shearer, who aren’t getting too carried away – especially when you look back at England’s record in the knockouts.
Since their 3-2 win over Cameroon in 1990, England have only been on the right side of a World Cup knock out match twice. A 3-0 win against Denmark in 2002 saw Sven’s men qualify for an eventual quarter final defeat to Brazil in Japan. Four years later in the Germany World Cup, England beat Ecuador in the last sixteen, courtesy of a David Beckham free-kick – not the best record, to put it very politely.
It’s impossible for Gareth Southgate and his players not to have this desirable route to the final at the back of their minds, but as the England manager has stated very clearly on a number of occasions, his one and only focus at this moment in time, is on José Pékerman’s Columbia.
Although England can go into their tie against the South Americans full of confidence, this is by no means a foregone conclusion. Radamel Falcao, Juan Cuadrado and James Rodriguez (if declared fit) pose the biggest attacking threat Southgate’s defence have faced yet, which could prove to be the acid test in assessing the robustness of England’s back line.
There’s no doubt that England’s best players can match these names, man-for-man, but there’s always room for an upset on the big stage.
So far, everything has gone right for England (touch wood!), at the Russia World Cup. From finishing second in their group being a positive, to the early exits of Germany and Spain, it very much feels as though the football Gods are on the side of the three lions this time around, with things falling, almost too conveniently, into place.
At the start of the tournament, England took things step-by-step, with the sole aim of getting out of the group. But, as events unfold, and more obstacles are removed, the people of England are daring to dream – and rightly so. There seems no point in boarding the World Cup train, if you don’t believe that, somehow, you’ll get to the final destination, which in itself would defy the beauty of football.
For many England fans, the stars are scarily aligning. It may be easier said than done, and they’ll have to avoid major injuries and trademark mistakes, but if Gareth Southgate’s England win their next four games of football, they’ll be World Champions.
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Also published on Medium.