“It’s coming home.” The three words that have been surrounding the chances of the English National Football team at 2018 FIFA World Cup.
The ‘Three Lions’ are through to their first World Cup quarter-final for the first time since 2006 and look to win the tournament for the first time since 1966. Long since the days of Alf Ramsey, Bobby Moore, Bobby Charlton, Gordon Banks and the legendary side that heroically defeated West Germany 4-2 at Wembley Stadium, with the new ‘Young Lions’ rising up to the take their place among the heroes of old. Gareth Southgate’s men have quite the uphill battle to fight with many big-name sides such as Germany, Spain and Argentina all crashing out of the tournament early on This quite possibly be the most open World Cup in history with four out of the remaining eight teams having never won the competition in their history.
Who is left to play?
Quarter Finals: Sweden
One of the greatest defensive units thus far in the tournament, Sweden have shocked the world, showing there was life after Zlatan Ibrahimović. After making it through the play-off narrowly defeating four-time world champions Italy by 1-0 on aggregate. Since then, the Swedes have looked like a compacted defensive unit, winning 2 out of the 3 group games against South Korea and coming so close to defeating the former World Champions Germany, before losing 2-1. In their Round of 16 match vs Switzerland, the managed to again narrowly qualify into the next round. Rather than play the attacking, high ball style of play they attempted to play when Ibrahimović, now Sweden focus on their back line, only conceding two goals through the whole tournament, keeping three clean sheets. England will have to go all out on the attack to break down the iron wall of Sweden, and in the last 10 games between the two sides, England have only won twice, with Sweden winning three and the rest all draws.
Semi Finals: Russia or Croatia
Russia started this World Cup like a house on fire, demolishing Saudi Arabia 5-0 in the opening match and then going on to defeat Mohammad Salah’s Egypt 3-1. They did suffer a hiccup against Uruguay losing 3-0 with Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani running the show, but in they quickly bounced back with a shock win over 2010 winners Spain in a penalty shoot-out. The Hosts have done above and beyond their expectations, as most did not expect them to get past the group stage. However, with their direct attacking, free flowing football they could prove formidable opponents for not only Croatia, but for England too.
As for Croatia, they have been one of the greatest attacking threats in the entire tournament. With an incredible midfield of Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic and Ivan Perisic, as well a strong strike partnership of Mario Mandzukic and Andrej Kramaric, the Croatians have been one of the brightest sparks of the whole competition. After shockingly destroying Argentina 3-0 and defeating Nigeria and Iceland, Croatia looked set to make it past Denmark, but were held 1-1 and were forced to take the match to a penalty shoot-out. That shaky end of the match could have an effect on the team, which is something that England could take advantage of, if they face them in the semi-final.
Final: Brazil, Belgium, France or Uruguay
Brazil have been the bookies favourites since the start of the tournament. Even with their star striker Neymar’s questionable tactics and antics on the field, the five-time world champions have been performing at a top level since their lacklustre opening against Switzerland. With three consistent 2-0 victories over Costa Rica, Serbia and Mexico, it would be hard for England to compete with the skill and finesse of Brazil. They would have to use their physicality to try and stop the pace of Neymar Willian and Gabriel Jesus.
Uruguay have always been one of the top dark horses at any World Cup they have competed in. With a great striker partnership of Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez ad well as good defence of Jose Maria Gimenez and Diego Godin, they have been hard to defeat. They have made comfortable work of Egypt, Russia and Saudi Arabia in the group stages, before laying waste to Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal. If England are to face them, they will have to play them through the middle of the park, since that is the one area that Uruguay are weakest.
Belgium have always been seen as the one team that looks good on paper, but never truly delivers. They possess a whole host of Premier League talent such as Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku and Kevin De Bruyne and some great overseas talent like Yannick Carrasco, Axel Witsel and Dries Mertens. They have scored a bucket load of goals in this tournament and won every one of there group games against Tunisia, Panama and even England themselves. They nearly were knocked out of the competition by Japan after going 2-0 down, bought fought back to win 3-2. Even though they were defeated 1-0, England and Belgium were fielding much weaker sides in preparation for the knockout stages. If both sides were to play their strongest sides, it could be tough challenge for both teams.
France have not been lighting the world on fire at this World Cup and at times looked quite dysfunctional, but at the same time has shown flashes of brilliance. Antione Griezmann has been quite a disappointment, where as Kylian Mbappe looks like a star. Their passing style has been very impressive but they have looked poor in the defence. Australia and Peru were the first to fall before they were held to a 0-0 draw against Denmark. They then took part in the highest scoring game of the tournament when they defeated Argentina 4-3. If England were to play France in the final, it would be a fast paced contest, with England having to break down France’s free flowing passing and try and hit them on the counter attack.
What do the fans/pundits think?
Alastair Hancock: “Harry Kane will win the golden boot and football is coming home.”
Alex Hughes: “It’s coming home but may have a bit of trouble in the check in lounge.”
Emily Winston: “It’s coming home!”
George Mills: “Inexperienced team of wannabe superstars. They’ve won games that they should have and haven’t looked particularly promising in any games except for Panama but they’re the weakest side in the tournament so again can’t take too much from that. Sweden will test them, England are lacking physicality and the Swedes are very physical and, in my opinion, have been the best defensively organised team in the tournament. If England get through to the semis and get Croatia they’ll get beaten quite convincingly.”
Jack Passmore: “This is a young adaptable squad with no single egotistical player, so as opposed to building the team around a specific player, Gareth Southgate has built an actual team. With an easier run to the final than any other nation, it would definitely seem as if the nation is finally starting to believe.”
Jack Sweeney: “Due to past tournaments, performances, luck all manner of things, expectation was definitely low, even more so supposedly after England’s “golden” generation with world renown players at the highest level, yet this year we have good with a squad with maybe not a lot of names or players of the same calibre of past teams, but there is 100% more spirit in the team and more togetherness then previous years, players that play well together, not as many big names perhaps with not as much to lose, but they style, togetherness and chemistry in the team is the best it’s been since I can remember”
Jonathan Taft: “Such a young and exciting team, for many years we've been too predictable so expectations of a nation are that we reach the semi-final at worst. By coincidence, we've also been handed the easiest run to the final”
Xavier Blackburn-Campbell: “Even if we end up losing in the semi-final, it will be a massive step in the right direction for our national leagues - a far cry from past tournaments.”
Uruguay 2-0 France
Brazil 2-2 Belgium (Brazil to win on penalties)
Sweden 0-2 England
Croatia 3-0 Russia
Uruguay 0-1 Brazil
England 3-2 Croatia
Brazil 2-0 England
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In my opinion, England will have a couple of tough couple of rounds, first against Sweden if you take into consideration their previous encounters with Sweden but will ultimately succeed and breakdown the iron wall of Sweden. After that, they will fight tooth and nail against a highly attacking minded Croatia, in a back and forth contest. However, do believe England can overcome and hold on to a result. But, in the final, this is where I believe the dream will finally come to an end, with Brazil ultimately taking home the title. No matter how far England get from now until the end of the tournament, they should be proud to have proven all of the doubters wrong and shown they can be a unit and they can bring hope to the nation. If this sort of attitude and determination stays with England for future tournaments down the line, maybe one day we will see football finally come home.