The National


Nervous? I am. Bricking it. It's that ye olde emotive ingredient, the belief that it could, might happen. Football. Coming home. It means England are doing something right, that we're sat here contemplating what might happen if we beat Colombia and progress. What I mean by England doing it right is that after the past decade or so, post Golden-generation, post players-we-absolutely-hate-having-to-support-with-Three-Lions-on-their-shirt (Lampard, Gerrard, Terry etc)...after all the hurt and shocking non-events in both group games and knock-outs...we still somehow muster up that belief. That this time...well you know. 

I think too, we are self-aware of the massive caveat that we've yet to be really tested. As a nation, I think we're quite relaxed. We're enjoying the hype and the goal celebrations. It's not like before, the days of that not so Golden gen where we assumed we'd do well and always failed. Today is very reminiscent of Euro 96. So why not embrace the f**k out of it.

The longer we remain in Russia, the better this summer gets and the more that undeniable exciting tension rises. That we go from believing to 'oh God, WE MIGHT ACTUALLY DO IT'. Ha! A few years back I couldn't give a toss about England, that's how detached and disillusioned I was. This team and even the manager are so much more on our level. We can identify with them. Helps that so many are Spurs players too. Well, aside from the perpetually departing Danny Rose and the enigma of Eric Dier's captaincy. Kane and Tripps have been magnificent. Dele hopefully back for the knockout game.

The defeat against Belgium is one of those moments that will be defined in hindsight. People barked about momentum being broken with the selection. Others appreciated the white lies that Southgate shared in defending his decision. That in his head it was about protecting key players. That perhaps all this talk about finishing second in the group to get the easier passage is a conspiracy theory, that plays no part in England's actual preparation. That no matter the team we face and no matter whether we end up playing Brazil (which we won't, not until hopefully much later) - we have to beat any given opposition if we really do think we're good enough to win the whole damn tournament.

That's the thing. We're fledgling. But also, we do not carry that weight of expectancy of previous years. So there's this freedom that is synergising both the players and the nation. I found myself agreeing with Gary Neville in the post-Belgium analyses. That after years of having to face top top sides, having found ourselves in this position, we might as well shrug it off and get on with it. But do so with the profound acceptance that we really do have a chance to go on a run here. That we should treat Colombia the same way we'd treat Japan or Brazil. 

It's easy. If the players want it, they deliver. Anything less is not good enough. If so, that's a reality we'll have to accept.

I personally won't be referring to hindsight. The past is done. We have to look ahead and treat the next game like the biggest game we've had for generations. Then we can start dreaming with additional vividness and lucidity. I can still see the 1990 World Cup semi-final in my head. Like it was yesterday. I want that again. Just with the more favourable result. But alas, Colombia first. 

One thing that does grab me about this WC is that the good teams are playing sh*t and the supposedly lower tier sides are doing great things. Germany getting knocked out was positively majestic. France or Argentina will be gone at some point this afternoon (it's quarter to two at time of writing). So what are England in all this? We under performing or over achieving? Or something in the middle? Regardless, it seems good enough to be genuinely excited for what happens next.