The round of 16. England are through to the second round of the 2018 World Cup and are so in-fashion. Two out of three much appreciated wins and the country rides high on hope as Southgate’s squad head into the first knockout game against Columbia.
In the final game of group G, both England and Belgium played heavily rotated sides, perhaps aware that the loser of the game would finish second in the group and avoid playing the following until the final: Uruguay, Portugal, France, Argentina, Brazil, Belgium, Mexico and Japan. Whether the result was a disappointment to the fans or not, the ensuing fixture list is nothing short of a organisational miracle.
What will provide England fans with further recompense is that manager Gareth Southgate clearly played a much-weakened side, leaving out many key players in his Thursday night setup. We did not see the likes of Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling, Dele Alli, Kieran Trippier, Ashley Young, Jordan Henderson or Kyle Walker – all of whom would arguably start in a need-to-win game. Despite the result, England played a confident game and were controlled all over the pitch, having the least luck in the final third despite Marcus Rashford’s one on one miss against Chelsea’s Thibaut Courtois. A flash of brilliance from ex-Manchester United ‘wonderkid’ Adnan Januzaj was the only thing separating the two titans of group G as the first round came to a tense closure.
Reasons to be confident
Now Gareth Southgate must look forward to the all important knockout game against Columbia. It will encourage the English faithful knowing the struggles Colombia faced in order to earn that fixture. It was on their final game that they made it to the next round, becoming the only team at the tournament to do so after losing their first fixture.
Despite superstar names such as James Rodriguez and Radamel Falcao, the England team will surely be confident of a win as the South American outfit looked as unconvincing as similarly unimpressive neighbours Argentina.
With the aforementioned list of rotated English players in the game against Belgium, there will be plenty of fresh legs to play the game, whereas Columbia have fought tooth and nail to proceed. It is here where Gareth Southgate may stamp his name on English football history or fade into the all too familiar throes of mediocrity and failure.
Criticism and praise will be easy to come by
If England fail to convincingly proceed against Columbia, Southgate’s decisions to rest and rotate the squad will surely come under heavy criticism for slowing the momentum effect that had irrefutably been building throughout the tournament thus far. It draws parallels to the England team under Steve McClaren that failed to qualify embarrassingly against Ukraine back in darker days for the national team.
Perhaps it is the nature of English pride, but anything less than resounding success would be a huge blow to the expected outcome of the 2018 World Cup. The nation will know that an easier knockout route awaits if the Colombian’s can be bested and the pressure will be surely mounted on the players to deliver their country to the long awaited latter stages of the tournament.
However, huge appraisal surely awaits if all is to go to plan. A win against Columbia, as mentioned before, will catapult England as certain favourites to face Spain in a semi-final, given the calibre of other teams involved. They would play either Sweden or Switzerland in a quarter final if successful and the path ahead has never been so bright for the national team. Just as easily as criticism would come, praise would also come if a fresh England line-up were to outclass and physically dominate the South American outfit. Thus, the result against Columbia next Tuesday will come as either a masterstroke, or a brutal blow in the most promising national team in recent modern history. The pressure is mounting. Are The Lions up to the job?