I have been hearing for some weeks that this world cup will be very different for England. Manager Gareth Southgate has done a brilliant job working with a young but talented group of players. The camp is very happy, relaxed and confident. Us English folk are more realistic than usual. Gone are the expectations that all we have to do is turn up and the trophy will be hours. I don’t believe a word.
It has been the dampening of expectations that I find more concerning than anything else. They have been downplayed so much that I now hear people saying things like this: “I think we might go much further than some people are saying. We should get through this group with something to spare and once you get into the knockout stages, anything is possible.” Uh oh.
From deepest pessimism comes gradual optimism. We’re not expecting too much but actually we are now expecting more than we were a few weeks ago. It’s not just Southgate’s calm and impressive demeanour. If anything, he has been very open, honest and realistic about our chances. But the rest of us can’t help ourselves.
England are 12th in the world rankings, but tomorrow’s opponents Tunisia are 21st and not long ago they were as high as 14th. Meaning that they are not mugs. Many of the top teams have stumbled, in Germany’s case staggered, through their first games. It is not out of the question that we might cock up against Tunisia.
I hope that I am wrong but I am getting the usual pre tournament feeling that we are about to cock up just like we always do. And we are about to discover that people are actually far more optimistic than perhaps they should be. It’s just that the media hasn’t asked us.
With all this in mind, I expect a dour draw tomorrow evening. Or a good win. Or perhaps a bad defeat. In other words, I don’t have a clue. But in truth, neither do you.