England, English football fans and the English football media as a collective unit, aren’t very good at keeping their emotions in check when it comes to a major tournament. In years gone by, hysteria has dogged the Three Lions as they looked to step out from the shadow of 1966, the achievement that still defines the English game even to this day.
In 2010, some bookmakers paid out on England winning the World Cup only for Fabio Capello’s side to be thumped by Germany in the round of 16. In 2006, Sven Goran Eriksson’s side were expected to go all the way. They had the quality and pedigree to do so, but internal politicking aggravated by an unhealthy level of hype contributed to their quarter final exit.
This time, though, England travel to Russia for this summer’s World Cup with a much healthier mindset. While there will be optimistic chants about football coming home over the next few weeks, there is an acceptance across the board that 1966 probably won’t be emulated. Not this time, anyway.
Gareth Southgate has picked the youngest English team in a generation to take to this World Cup. They are dynamic and exciting. Pace will be England’s greatest strength this summer, with the likes of Dele Alli, Marcus Rashford, Raheem Sterling and Jamie Vardy capable of stretching the pitch in a matter of seconds.
Every World Cup, there is a team that captivates and compels, a dark horse who don’t make it all the way, but thrill along the way. In 2014, it was Colombia who caught the imagination, making it to the quarter finals, but not before they had exhilarated us all. In 2010, it was Uruguay, who made the semi finals.
England could be this team at the 2018 World Cup. They should be comfortable in securing their passage through the group stage alongside Belgium, with a relatively kind draw for the round of 16 giving them a chance of making the quarter finals. England, for once, could be the neutral’s favourite at this World Cup.
This is the most exciting, entertaining England side since the 1998 World Cup, or maybe even since the 1996 European Championships – a modern heyday for the Three Lions. Goals have been hard to come by for England teams at recent major tournaments, but Southgate’s side have the potential to cause a stir in Russia this summer. Harry Kane alone should be good for a few goals in the group stage at least.
Across the board, there is a light positivity about this England team that is in stark contrast to the crushing pressure that has burdened previous England sides at World Cups and European Championships. The trust between fans and players has been rebuilt somewhat, as demonstrated by the support Sterling received after being the subject of a tabloid hatchet job a few weeks ago.
Of course, this will only be put to the test when it’s time for England to return home from Russia. In 1990, having made the World Cup semi finals, England’s players were greeted by thousands of fans on an open-top bus. Those sort of scenes haven’t been witnessed for a long time. We might see them again in the not so distant future, though. England has fallen in love with its team again and a few others could do the same this summer.
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