Are 52 years of hurt potentially going to come to an end? Could football really be coming home?
Now, myself like many other patriotic supporters following their nation all the way in Russia do not want to get ahead of myself. At the end of the day, we have only faced Tunisia and Panama as well as a weakened Belgium side. Therefore it is merely impossible at this stage to say for certain it is coming home or even that we will advance past the final 16. Yet having said this, there is no argument against the fact that this side have a considerable chance of going all the way and they will have the hope of a whole nation resting on their shoulders. There is a distinct aura in the nation and an element of faith in this side, something feels different about this 23 man squad, there is a real chance to create history and a chance for legends to be made.
After the 1-0 defeat at the hands of the Red Devils last Thursday, there have been many questioning the decision of Southgate to make nine changes ahead of that fixture. Many have been stating that ‘momentum’ has been lost and that if England lose to Columbia then Southgate will look a fool. Nonetheless, a spirited Japan performance yesterday almost ended in the elimination of table-topping Belgium and maybe our route finishing second and a fixture against Columbia, is possibly an easier outcome.
The injury to James Rodriguez, who limped off in Columbia’s last group stage fixture vs Senegal will without doubt bring satisfaction to Southgate and his men. Rodriguez, who was the Golden Boot winner in Brazil just four years ago is the heart and soul of a Columbian side who have had a mixture of performances so far in Russia. His injury is not as bad as first feared and his fitness will be assessed ahead of tonight’s performance. It has to be said that the presence of the Bayern Munich star would bring great gratification to Columbia with the complete opposite being the case for England and fans alike.
There will be a considerable amount of anticipation in Harry Kane and there will be a desire that he picks up from where he left off. With the Tottenham star currently leading the race for the Golden Boot he is pivotal in England’s success for the remainder of the campaign. After scoring two in the Three Lions opener and becoming only the third English player to score a World Cup hat-trick against Panama, he was then left out against Belgium. This gave England’s captain the chance to rest and Southgate will need his main man to be firing on all cylinders in Moscow on Tuesday evening. Jordan Pickford could also be crucial in England’s passage to the latter end of the tournament. England’s number 1 has had little to do so far in the tournament and although conceding three goals, he has had little asked from him and has not had to undertake constant waves of pressure in any match so far.
Columbia could rely on a counter-attacking style to be successful against England and if this is the case, Pickford may have to stand up and be counted for and show why Southgate put his faith in him to be England’s number 1. Another player who could be imperative to the Three Lions is Manchester City’s Raheem Sterling. The 23-year-old who originated from Jamaica has been at the centre of the media storm to date; from his gun tattoo which was highly criticised by many to his questionable performances against Tunisia and Panama, he has the chance to put this all behind himself in Moscow tonight. His skill and talent has never been questioned but having said this, his performances for England have never quite mirrored his excelling campaign at City last season which understandably frustrates a watching nation. A goal against Columbia could silence his critics and the youngster has an expectancy to perform if he is called upon in this last 16 tie.
If the Three Lions are successful on Tuesday night they will face off against either Sweden of Switzerland for a place in the World Cup Semi-Final, a stage England have not reached since 1990 and something they’ve only achieved twice in their history. Despite the fact the Swiss sit above England in the current FIFA world rankings, there would be extreme optimism that the English have enough to be victorious. As for Sweden, they have impressed so far in the tournament and after being unfortunate to not get anything from current World Champions, Germany, they have had successful wins’ vs Mexico and South Korea. Again, there would be an expectancy for England to have enough to progress.
With an average age of 26 years and 18 days, Southgate has a young squad at his disposal. The team are hungry to bring success after many previous tournaments of let down and despair. The likes of Rashford, Alexander Arnold, Alli and Loftus Cheek have the chance to undertake something many before them could have only dreamed of. Kane and co have the chance to put history behind them and manage something England have not done since 2006 and be victorious in a knock-out fixture at a World Cup. They have only advanced to the final eight twice in their last five attempts at the most prestigious competition on the planet, Denmark in 2002 and Ecuador in 2006 and the England manager claims this as the ‘biggest game in a decade’ for England.
It has to be remembered that in Brazil, England did not even make it past the group stage. In France, England were embarrassed by a prepared Iceland side, and in 2010 everyone remembers the goal that never was in a 4-1 loss against the Germans. It’s fair to say we haven’t had many years of grace and success and football has struggled to come home. With all of this being said this has to be the motivator come Tuesday night and hopefully the remainder of the tournament.
If, and this is a monumental if, England gain a passage to the Semi-Finals or even the Final then anything is possible. With the elimination of Spain to the hosts, England’s Semi-Final opponents would be either the aforementioned or Croatia, who were arguably the most impressive in the group stages. If the Three Lions do find themselves in the Semi-Finals, there would be pandemonium in a country which has been saying football is coming home for 52 years and a nation which is desperate for their country to be successful once more.
Written by Eamon Kitching.