As you might've heard by now: it's coming home.
All that stands in England's way en route to lifting Jules Rimet is: Colombia, Switzerland or Sweden, Croatia or Russia and (probably) France, Belgium or Brazil. E.A.S.Y. Call the engravers, get the bunting out, arise Sir Gareth, this one's a wrap.
Actually...saying that, there is one thing I have noticed and it relates to England's knockout record.
Southgate has done a hell of a job changing the perception of England, incubating an exciting young side by helping them to play, for the most, without the suffocating inhibitions of fear and pressure. However, while six points and eight goals in the group stages have been the air freshener tree hanging from the rearview mirror of the bandwagon, we won't know how potent this breath of fresh air is until this new England face their oldest fear: knockout football.
England have not won a single World Cup knockout game since 2006 (a 1-0 victory over Ecuador courtesy of a David Beckham free kick). For comparison, in that time, among the Three Lions' European rivals,
Things get bleaker still when you look at England knockout wins against good teams, or rather the lack thereof. For the sake of argument l
|Team||No of FWC appearances||Total Knockout Wins||Total Knockout Wins Against 'Tier 1' Sides||Knockout Wins Since Change to 32 Team Format|
*Table comparing England's knockout record to some European rivals, not including results from 2018 World Cup.
By courtesy of Germany, Spain and Argentina's failures (and Adnan Januzaj's second half curler), England, now squarely on the sunny side of the draw, have the possibility of avoiding one of those sides that normally knock us out before the final.
There are echoes of Germany's route to an improbable final in 2002. Smashed by England in qualifying (I think I'm right in saying even Heskey scored in that one), little was expected of the Germans in Japan and Korea. However, simply not falling foul of the banana skins which tripped up the likes of Italy, Spain, France and Argentina gave the Germans a relatively clear road (Belgium, USA, South Korea) to Yokohama.
Germany, however - vintage or not - were used to the pressures, the idiosyncrasies and the challenges of 'win or go home' football. England are very much not.
Southgate's side came into this tournament with the giddy freedom of just another also-ran but have now been thrust back into the cycle of expectation, as Baddiel and Skinner's famous refrain lilts from ironic aside to insatiable demand.