Eclectic Blue

Reason to believe

Comments Off on Reason to believe 07 July 2018

Good grief: the semi-finals of the World Cup. I must admit I never saw that one coming. I don’t think anyone else did either, barring Gareth Southgate and the England squad. Indeed, Captain Kane said from the outset that they were not going to Russia just to make up the numbers.

I did take Kane seriously when he said that the England team believed they could win. He’s a world class footballer, for goodness sake, and believes that he will always win every game in which he plays. It’s also the mentality of every footballer I have ever come across.

My loyal reader will have concluded long ago that I was never a decent player. My strengths were in running around, stopping the opposition players playing and giving the ball to players who could play. My lack of ability did not affect my confidence, though. And confidence is everything.

A footballer – any footballer – can reach a level whereby they do not believe they can lose a game. The more games you win, the less you believe you can ever lose. And when you play the so called better teams, that level of confidence simply grows greater.

I keep hearing from the few miserable cynics who remain saying that we have not played anyone yet. Quite frankly, I am not interested in what they have to say. They are the same people who, had we beaten Germany and Brazil, in between thrashing France, would have found some way to diminish our achievements. I would like to make one simple point: we deserve to be in the World Cup semi-finals.

I happen to think we will play better against better opposition. Our semi-final opponents, Croatia, are a step up from Sweden but are they a lot better than England? Of course not. We were good against Tunisia for half a game, excellent against Panama, okay when we put our stiffs out against Belgium (as they did), good against Columbia and better today. Does anyone else think we have a truly great performance in us?

It is tempting to call on Southgate to change the team. After all, he knows very little about football compared to us bar room blusterers. I could say that I’d like to start Rose ahead of Young and maybe Rashford ahead of Sterling, but then I wanted Trent Alexander Arnold to start ahead of Trippier and Jones to start ahead of Macguire. It was idiocy on my part. No change there, then.

Southgate and his team have hit on something. Football, despite the efforts of Ronaldo and Messi to prove otherwise, remains a team game. It could be that one player is better than another, but the manager’s considerations will be manifold. Sterling’s teammates will have absolutely loved his workmate today, his wanton destruction of the Swedish backline. Yes, his composure deserted him but his pace, his dribbling, his pressing created space for others and shattered the opponent. Sterling’s contribution may not have been showy, but my God it was hugely effective. And I have the feeling he will deliver when it really matters.

So much can happen in a game. You can score a flukey goal, you can concede one. There are no certainties. And that is why we can dare to dream. Not dare to be sure that we will win the World Cup, but that we have an incredible chance to do so.

If it all ends on Wednesday, then we will have greatly overachieved. But what if we win? England have absolutely nothing to lose. Everyone saw Belgium and France as the favourites and they carry with them huge levels of expectation. That does not apply to us, but then we have Harry Kane and, sooner or later, a player as good as Sterling will do something special. So, like today, will Dele Alli.

In 1966, as a very young boy I declined the opportunity to go to London to meet my dad to go to the World Cup final. In 1990, I watched England’s semi final hopes evaporate in a Clapham hotel room full of Scots who cheered every German penalty to the rafters. And now, assuming I have been discharged from hospital after an op on Monday of next week (let me emphasise, I am expected to be discharged on the same day), I shall watch the third semi final of my lifetime from the comfort of my own living room. I will relish every moment.

I will relish every moment because, for all I know, this semi-final (and maybe even final?) could be my last. I waited 24 years from my first semi-final to the second and a further 28 to get to this one. Few people in my family got past 80 years of age and many didn’t get anywhere near it. Split the difference of the gaps and I would be somewhere in my mid eighties if England followed form. I am not sure all that stress (and alcohol) would be a good thing, in the unlikely event I made it that far.

I’ll live for this World Cup. The boy Southgate – and he is a boy to me, in terms of years – has given me reasons to believe. I’m buggered if I am giving up now.

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