almost unbelievably, one of them is England. It is probably fair to say that Gareth Southgate and his team have far exceeded the expectations of a nation that had developed apathy towards the national football team after recent dismal tournament showings.
If it was possible to question England’s credentials after the penalty shootout win over Colombia, the professional, disciplined performance against Sweden demonstrated the growth and development of a team that doesn’t look out of place in the last four. Superstition dictates that I won’t even begin to suggest that football might be coming home, but we can at least cling onto the dream for another few days. As well as living in hope that we may just get to watch our team in a World Cup Final.
England’s continued progress in the tournament has enthused the nation, with people who normally wouldn’t care in the slightest finding it difficult to talk about anything else. I have lost count of the number of people who wouldn’t normally discuss football asking me whether I think they can go on and win it.
Without taking anything for granted, the fact that England’s semi-final opponents Croatia have needed penalty shootouts to progress in both their knockout games and the way that they were run so close by the hosts Russia, the lowest ranked team in the tournament, suggests that England should be optimistic of progress. This is however unfamiliar territory for England fans as we normally prefer guarded pessimism as a comfort mechanism.
The big worry for England’s dream comes from the other side of the draw where Belgium or France lurk in wait as the opposition in a potential Final. For all their brilliant football against Argentina in the second round, France showed another side to their game in overcoming a resilient Uruguay side. They showed that if they have to tough it out then they can and they will.
Les Bleus seem to be moving towards their peak at just the right time but the same can also be said of their semi-final opponents, Belgium. Roberto Martinez altered his system and got Kevin DeBruyne closer to the forwards where he is capable of wreaking havoc. He and Belgium simply had too much for Brazil and swept aside the five time winners. It is almost too close to call as to who will win through in that match but it promises to be a hell of a game of football.
As we enter the final week of what has been a brilliantly entertaining tournament and as things start to get really serious, the dream is still alive for four teams and maybe just maybe the fifty-two years of hurt may finally be over.