England's performance at the 2018 World Cup will be remembered whatever happens

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Amid all the turmoil back home, England fans can relax safe in the knowledge they have already won.

Politics and football are often intertwined, with the failures of a footballing nation reflective of the strife back in a respective homeland, sport unable to end the misery of said country in turmoil.

Another England capitulation similar to their dismal Euro 2016 exit against footballing minnows Iceland, four days after Brexit had thrown everything up in the air, would have been timely in Russia, with Boris Johnson and David Davis’ resignations, if a little late, planned meticulously to help with those metaphor-ladened narratives.

Gareth Southgate and his merry, politically apathetic, men have not played their part, though, inexplicably bringing the feel-good factor back to the country and, win or lose against Croatia, despite the Conservative Party’s best efforts, a real sense of nationalistic pride has been restored.

Fans keen on escaping armageddon back home are starting to arrive in Moscow, not in great number, but certainly more than the paucity of fans who witnessed England book their first semi-final spot in 28 years in Samara.

The pre-match feeling, though, is a strange one. Normally, there is an overriding sense of fear during the latter stages of a tournament, with fans nervous at their team’s prospect of going all the way.


Sir Alex Ferguson used to refer to it as “squeaky bum time” as the end of any competition nears, but while English derrieres will be getting all excited in the Luzhniki Stadium on Wednesday, there will be no palpable nerves or fear - England have done what they came to Russia to do, and some.

“This time I would say we’re overachieving, going further than anyone expected,” Gary Neville said in an interview with The Times on Tuesday. “That’s a great thing. It’s brilliant.”

The more pessimistic amongst us have highlighted just how easy England’s path this far has been. Aside from the dead rubber against Belgium in the group stages, where ostensibly England were more than content to lose, Colombia represent the highest ranked opponent England have faced in Russia in the FIFA rankings, four places below England.

Sweden v England: Quarter Final - 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia

Therefore, on paper, England have simply achieved par for the course, beating inferior teams, as they should, and a semi-final spot was to be expected, when you consider the opponent, right? As we all know, though, that is not how tournament football works.

Germany would still be here if this was the case, as would Brazil, Portugal, Argentina. England’s achievements therefore cannot be understated, and as a result of surprising everyone by getting this far, whatever happens from here on in is nothing more than a bonus.

Obviously winning a first World Cup crown in 52 years would be nothing short of glorious, but it is not imperative to maintain the feeling of euphoria - it is too late for that.

Four years ago England, to many, was at its lowest ebb, having shunned Europe on and off the pitch. Today, politically, the country is as unstable as it was four years ago, if not worse, but for once, its football team has not adhered to the script, and nobody can take such joy away from the common football fan. Not even Boris.

Gary Neville
World Cup diary
Gareth Southgate
England Football
World Cup
Premier League
Gary Cahill

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