Germany shocked, Spain stunned and Harry Kane’s run riot already. This World Cup has been an extraordinary mesh of goals, drama and upsets. And we’re only halfway through.
England, for the first time in my lifetime, are playing an unexpected cocktail of exciting, attractive football. We also have the easiest route to the final in history. Could we really do it? After 52 years, could football finally come home?
In case you hadn’t caught on, I am an England fan. I’ve watched the heartache of World Cups past. My footballing memories consist of watching a team composed of Rooney, Gerrard and Lampard limp pathetically to a 0-0 draw with Algeria, to name but one particularly painful moment. Culminating in the not-that-long-ago Iceland calamity, it’s safe to say that for over a decade now, England have been a disappointment. But not this time. Gareth Southgate has proven, if nothing else, his desire to play attacking football and excite fans. More than that, this England team seem relaxed, and enjoying themselves. Gone are the stories of club rivalries, and a failure to ‘play as a team’. They seem like they actually get on with each other, aren’t afraid of the press, and are – dare I say it – likeable.
Before we get too carried away even the most optimistic of fans has to acknowledge that we’ve only beaten Tunisia and Panama. We lost to Belgium (though that was perhaps a throwback to the time of the ‘B’ internationals games more than anything), and haven’t been properly tested yet. Fans know this. However, we’ve endured dire football in the face of terrible teams before, and it’s been tough to watch. Things do feel different this time. And surely, if any World Cup would be ours, it would be this, the World Cup of shocks. Furthermore, our route to the final is ridiculously easy. Make no mistake, Colombia will be tough opposition, as will all of the teams that could face us. But they will not be Brazil, France, Germany or Spain. And if we get to the final, who knows? Anything can happen.
The 3 at the back is a refreshing change, playing out from the back is what we all like to see. Is it up to the likes of Neymar, Mbappe, or Coutinho defensively? That’s unclear at the moment. Jordan Pickford is again, great for this system that England have got – very competent playing the ball out, but at the moment he doesn’t inspire confidence. It all springs from the fact that two group games aside, this is a very inexperienced team. The likes of Sterling, Kane and Alli are fantastic, but they haven’t won anything. However, maybe that’s not what’s required at this tournament. Germany, Spain and Argentina have all been knocked out. Even France and Brazil are only just getting into the swing of things. Both had slow starts, and are only now finding their feet. England have gone full throttle from the word go (Belgium was a write-off), and have pushed not only themselves forward, but the dreams of fans nationwide.
Of course, you could be reading this after we’ve been beaten 2-0 by Colombia, which is a very possible outcome. This tournament has shown that nothing is set in stone. Spain aren’t brilliant, Messi and Ronaldo can’t carry their nations on their backs, and no, the Germans don’t always win.
So will England let us down again? Maybe not. Maybe, just maybe, football is coming home.