England's date with destiny is on the horizon - but who will be there to witness it?


52 years. The Russians we have spoken to cannot quite believe it. “Isn’t football your game?” one taxi driver says, howling with laughter.

But how long will England’s lack of success on the international football stage since 1966 be the butt of the joke? This is ostensibly England’s best chance since 1966 to win the World Cup, so much so even the normally placid and ever-so diplomatic Gareth Southgate has admitted such.

Yet, the air of confidence around the English press pack comes with a caveat - this is a Sweden side that, in recent times, England were winless against - between 1968 and 2011 - a spell of 12 games which saw four defeats and eight draws.

This Sweden incumbent are no easy opponent, too.

They are not especially talented in any particular area, which makes them equally as dangerous. How do you defend against the unknown?

Beforehand, it is time to sample the capital of Tatarstan, Kazan, where Brazil and Belgium meet. With the majority of the population being of Muslim faith, Russia’s third biggest city certainly has a different vibe to it.

One of Russia’s wealthier cities, with modern infrastructure erected to keep the Tatars, keen on becoming an autonomous region, from rebelling. As a result, the city has all the mod cons you could want.

Fortunately for the spectacle, the Brazilians are in town. Many Europeans have been put off by the negative press, but South Americans are far enough away to avoid such scaremongering, so, as always, it has been down to them to bring the colour.


They have taken over the main thoroughfare, with the beat very much Samba. Belgians are nowhere to be seen, but the ones that have made the jaunt are treated like rare birds, with everyone gawping in amazement.

Samara will represent the same amazement for those England fans who will make the trip, however few there will be.

In normal circumstances, half of the country would head out to watch England in a quarter-final. It hasn’t happened since 2006, and that was against Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal, not Sweden and Marcus Berg. A semi-final surely awaits, but even that will fail to pull the crowds.


Those Russians brave enough to speak out against the regime have been keen to point out that this is not the real Russia - the police do not stand off and happily let people drink in the street - but it was never going to be during the World Cup.

Russia’s desire to be seen as a modern civilised society was always going to outweigh any potential dangers, which has in turn lead to the safest World Cup in living memory taking place.

England's run to the last eight has certainly generated more interest from fans wanting to come over, with numerous fans expected to take advantage of a loophole in the Fan ID system - needed for visa-free travel - and the warm hospitality that they have seen on their screens from afar.

Supporters have discovered they can get the Fan ID simply by submitting online a ticket stub number for any World Cup match, including ones that already took place. With ticket stubs posted on social media sites by proud supporters, England fans wanting to travel to Russia need only copy down the ticket numbers and submit those, and can obtain a Fan ID in minutes.


Logistical problems, with Samara being unreachable by direct flight, mean that only the most dedicated will get to the once-closed city for the next match, though.

More fans from The Netherlands, whose team are not even in Russia, applied for tickets than English-based fans originally, but if England dispose of Sweden, those dreaming of Harry Kane lifting the Jules Rimet trophy in just over a week’s time may well head over, with or without ticket, for a potential semi final, and will soon realise what they have been missing all tournament.

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