Gosh, where have we seen this before? Only at nearly every major international football competition over the past, say, 50 years. England turn up, either with high expectations (because they’re obviously the most brilliant football team in the world, ever), or with no expectations (because they’re the most overhyped diva-esque footballers in the universe, ever).
In the first case, they struggle against a mediocre team (they’re just warming up!), beat a really weak team (see, told you they were great!), and then muddle through until they’re beaten in the knockout stages. Usually in a penalty shoot-out.
In the second case, they scrape a win against a somewhat reasonable team (hey, maybe they’re not that bad after all), beat a really weak team (not bad? they’re getting good!), and then muddle through, raising expectations up into a frothy lather with every half-baked, misfired goal until they’re beaten in the knockout stages. Usually in a penalty shoot-out.
This time, it’s the latter case. Young, inexperienced team, with nobody really giving them a chance. Scrape through against Tunisia. Thrash Panama. And suddenly, up comes the froth. It’s coming home! Colombia! They’re going all the way! Sweden! They’re unbeatable! Even the loss against Belgium was just a plan to get to the easier half of the draw.
The question is, do they actually have a chance? Granted, the victory in the penalty shoot-out against Colombia was out of character, and the win against Sweden was bordering on the impressive. And something about the tabloid headlines this time has a different character. There’s genuine pride in these youngsters, and Southgate and Kane between them are almost entirely unlike the holders of their positions in the past.
What I do know is that it’s going to be a lot easier living through the next week as an outsider: for the die-hard England fan, it’s going to be an emotional rollercoaster.