After three group games which saw England win two and lose one, English fans, unsurprisingly are starting to dream about that World Cup trophy. Even the quarter-final 1-0 loss to Belgium - which seemed more like an international friendly than a World Cup match - hasn't dampened the hopes of long-suffering supporters

England now face Colombia (who I tipped to the surprise package in this World Cup) in the last 16 and Belgium, in my eyes, have the easier tie against Japan (who only scraped through the group stages) after Senegal missed out on the fair play rule. 

I’m certainly not a fan of all this talk about ‘easier route to the trophy if we finish second’. To a win a World Cup, you need to be beat the best at some point, so to me, the players should be focussed on winning every single game no matter what – forget the permutations and focus on winning one game at a time. Cliché, but true. 

What about that man Harry Kane? 

Captain, leader and a goal scoring machine. Some are convinced he is the best number nine in Russia right now. There’s no denying that he’s hungry and the way he has put away penalties with such nous and confidence is awe-inspiring. Kane started on the bench against Belgium which may have seen some star players ‘spit the dummy’ especially when they are in the running for the prestigious Wold Cup ‘Golden Boot’ award, but Kane responded as all professionals should and respected Southgate’s decision. 

Southgate believes Tuesday’s game against Colombia is England's “biggest match in a decade”, which is why he didn't risk Golden Boot leader Harry Kane in chasing a leveller against Belgium.

What if it comes down to penalties? 

Traditionally, England haven’t been great with penalties which Gareth Southgate knows all too well. Southgate was the unfortunate one to miss in the penalty shootout of the semi final of Euro ’96 where England faced Germany. England’s shootout record is, frankly, terrible: six defeats from seven in major tournaments, the exception being against Spain at Euro '96. 

Are England better prepared than ever before? 

What has impressed me most in this World Cup is that England have learnt and evolved. 

So many doubted Southgate at the start (and I was one of them), but he’s won over the hearts of many.  I think that’s partly down to his thorough research into so many different areas. It’s clear that there’s been investment into best practice in so many areas from sport science to sport psychology to new systems and tactics to investing in youth and so much more.  

What’s refreshing is it’s clear the players believe in Southgate’s philosophy. They all have his back and they know their individual roles and also understand how their roles contribute to the overall success of the team. And what’s even more pleasing is seeing the players have fun. 

Every photo or video on social media shows the players working hard, but also enjoying themselves - there’s a real sense of togetherness which I think every team would agree is one of the key ingredients to success. 

Will England win the World Cup? 

I think it’s far too early to make any such claims. We’ve played Tunisia and won (just), thrashed a team of world class warriors (Panama), and lost against Belgium. So, why don't we English folk keep our feet on the ground and see how we go against Colombia. If we manage to beat the South Americans, we will face either Sweden or Switzerland in the quarter-final which gives me more than a glimmer of hope that maybe, after all these years of hurt, football could finally come home for England. There’s certainly no harm in dreaming. 

Come on England. We still believe. If we lift the trophy, every team will be doing unicorn races for life! 

Categories: Opinion | World Cup

2018 world cup, england

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