In words stolen from Blur’s song The Universal … it really, really, really could ’appen. But will it?
England are through to the semi-finals of the World Cup. It’s been 28 long years since anyone has been able to write those words.
Can they go on and reach the final? I do believe they can.
Will they win the whole thing? Ah, let’s not get carried away. We’ve got to get there first.
Croatia will provide England with the toughest test yet, but I genuinely believe it’s a 50:50 call who will win that encounter. I’m not overly optimistic, but, by the same token, I’m not especially pessimistic.
It’s cup football and pretty much anything can happen. You don’t need to be an expert football commentator to make that assertion. Next I’ll be telling you to take one game at a time. Yes, the footballing clichés are just dripping off the keyboard here.
To date, England have done everything that could be expected of them and more, much more. There have been 12 World Cups since England won it way back in the mists of time in 1966. In the following 50+ years I genuinely can’t recall a squad of players less fancied going into the tournament than the current group.
Those who say “I knew they had it in them all along” may kid themselves, not me.
Before the tournament I didn’t even want to talk about it. Having crossed fingers and toes and hoped against hope a dozen times before, Russia 2018 wasn’t worth talking about. I scoffed at the thought England might be anywhere among the favourites with the bookies.
Well, now they are in the last four. Who would have thought it? If England do get to the final – and that may be a big “if” – they will play either France or Belgium, both higher placed in the FIFA rankings. Mind you, going into the tournament Germany were ranked No1 and Russia No70. Make of that what you will.
All of the last four are ranked in the top 20, with Belgium highest at No 3. If you have been following my musings on the tournament you may recall that I observed that England might be glad they met Belgium in the group stages. The inference being that their paths could not cross again until the final.
Now that is more of a possibility, but both sides have difficult semis to negotiate.
Belgium or France? Well, like many an English football fan ahead of Wednesday I just think it would be a nice problem to have.
If you want to pick out star players I believe both Belgium and France have more. But here’s the thing, it is more than possible that the World Cup will be won by teamwork as opposed to individual brilliance.
Don’t misunderstand me, England have some top players, but those players seem to merge better into the framework of the team.
My perception is that there are not that many super egos in the England squad. Some two-thirds of them have, at one time or another, been out on loan – many to unfashionable clubs (see The Loan Stars elsewhere on this site).
To date, few England players have commanded big money in the transfer market though Sterling and Walker are notable exceptions. Expect that to change radically, should England go on to … nah, don’t even want to say it in case I jinx them.
As the tournament progresses I’m getting more nervous – if that’s possible. The Tunisia match seems an age ago and who can forget how nervous the last minutes were then?
Little has happened since to ease those nerves though, strangely, the Sweden match seemed to pass more calmly.
By the way, people going crazy in Ikea stores. Really? What sort of nonsense was that?
Should we, please God, beat Croatia what will the fans do then? Will it all be down to the Taste Croatia restaurant in south London’s Borough Market for a shindig? That area of the city had enough problems with van-driving terrorists last year. I hope no Croat-related businesses have any problems.
How to sum up? Is it, as the song goes, coming home? The crazy fan in me says “yes”. The more level-headed part of me says “I doubt it”.
But, it does no harm to be crazy every once in a while …
By Dave Buckley