England’s World Cup journey so far…
Is it just me, or are people getting more pleasure out of others losing than England actually winning this year? At the time of writing, we’ve beaten the mighty Tunisia, Panama and the hype is underway. In fact, a defeat against Belgium in the last group game wasn’t even hammered by fans and critics as it may have done in recent years. Halfway through the round of 16 and England are in the enviable position of getting better, not by every game they play, but in every game, others play.
The low key, low expectations that Gareth Southgate had so successfully nurtured and negotiated with the football loving public seems to have gone. Now that the World Cup has hit the mainstream, non-sports media, the national teams stock is rising.
Germany go out
It’s always a cause for national celebration on the very few occasions that Germany underachieve but their exit below Sweden, Mexico and South Korea meant a door was jemmied open for others to enter. Even German comedian Henning Wehn had to admit to having to rewrite his act due to his teams’ failure. Suddenly, anything was possible and talk turned to the England team and how they could possibly lose in order to tie up second place in their group. As if losing had ever been a problem before.
England lose to Belgium
England then did their duty and lost to Belgium, thus leading to the “easier” side of the draw and fans began to believe, albeit just a little. It didn’t matter that the game had all the hallmarks of a friendly. It would take quite a bit more than a defeat to Belgium to stoke the fans fire enough to believe a World Cup win was possible. Then, it started to happen, without the team even taking to the field. Other teams started losing, and without taking to the field, England began to get better and better.
Adios Argentina, Tchau Portugal!
Not quite as seismic as the Germany result, Portugal’s exit to Uruguay saw the removal of arguably the world’s best player. If you happen to believe the worlds best player is Messi rather than Ronaldo, Argentina’s defeat by France a few hours earlier saw him leave the tournament too.
This gave England fans the chance to gloat and believe that, with the big guns leave, maybe it’s their year. The online abuse a certain, portly, double watch wearing World Cup winner in 1986 received following the game suggest England had knocked out Argentina themselves. Will we ever forget that “Hand of God?”. People began using the phrase “it’s coming home”.
With Sweden taking Germany’s place in the England side of the draw and France, Brazil, Belgium and an improving Uruguay on the other side, all that was needed was a Spanish defeat to a mediocre Russia for England’s odds to tumble yet again.
Spain tumble out
Following Spanish victories, you get fireworks and explosions in the local streets and bars. This time it was eerily quiet. Social media, however, was rocking. Mostly in celebration of the tournament favourites, one by one, leaving. The emerging knowledge that one of the following would be contesting the World Cup Final; Colombia, Sweden, Switzerland, Russia, Croatia and of course, England was beginning to sink in.
Rather than plotting a path to the semi-final, as was the hype before the Belgium game, we now had a clear run to the final. Yet again, without playing, England are continuing to improve. With some bookmakers, you can now only get 5/1 for England to win the World Cup. Just don’t mention penalties.
It’s there for the taking, isn’t it?
The celebration of Germany losing to South Korea and finishing bottom of their group was a high point, but the removal of Argentina and Spain also gave England fans something to celebrate. With every game the opposition play, and lose, England gets better and better. In fact, if the Belgium game is anything to go by, even when they lose themselves, they improve. If there is a way of negotiating World Cups without playing, I’m convinced England will win. So long as England don’t play their stock is rising. Just don’t tell Colombia, please!
When the World Cup isn’t taking place, you’ll find me on taleoftwohalves.uk or add me on twitter @ballyhoo9