Written by Jon Clarke
Fifty-two years. That’s how long it’s been since Sir Geoff Hurst put three past a very strong West German outfit - in front of 96,000 people at Wembley Stadium. Just the thought is enough to give any football fan goosebumps. In the five decades since then, the best results England have achieved in the World Cup are four quarter finals.
But that could be all set to change in Russia. Laugh all you want, but hear us out…
All that hype often brings failure
The problem we’ve had as a footballing nation in recent years is putting too much hype on the England team. They just don’t respond well to it. Teams like Italy 2006 (this team was just outrageous), or Brazil circa 2002 (equally as outrageous) seem to thrive under pressure.
The weight of their nation’s expectations make them deliver. The weight of our nation’s expectations make them… self-destruct.
Take a look at this picture for a moment…
England team 2006. Often called a golden generation - and you can see why.
Each and every one of those players were superstars in their own right. We had two of the world’s strongest defenders in Terry and Ferdinand, a frankly absurd midfield of Lampard, Gerrard and Beckham, and then Michael Owen (and a little later) Wayne Rooney in attack.
The current squad, with the exception of Harry Kane, doesn’t have the same stature of names - and that is a good thing. The England team heading to Russia is young, fresh and determined. They bring with them promising, but not overbearing, reputations - and therefore the weight of pressure is not too heavy. This means they can operate as underdogs.
And underdogs often overperform.
Youth is not to be overlooked
With an average age of 25.9 years, this is one of England’s youngest squads to ever enter a major international competition, and actually the third youngest squad in the 2018 World Cup. And while experience obviously counts for a lot, it’s not the be all and end all. This team is hungry and, in a tournament of seasoned veterans, will feel like they have something to prove.
The current crop. Lots of pace and quality finishers here, but can they deliver on the big stage?
In the modern game, pace counts for a lot - especially in counter attacking football.With the likes of Walcott, Rashford, Sterling and Dele Alli, England have some speedsters in their ranks - which will give even the most wiley defenders a hard time.
So what are their realistic chances then?
Let’s just put this out there: England are far from favourites for this competition. France have an incredible team, as do Spain and Argentina. And you can never write Germany off. But, the optimist in all of us would say that there is always the chance of an upset. Just as Iceland made the Euro 2016 quarter-finals two years ago (beating England on the way) - football is a game of upsets and the unexpected.
Can this England team beat Germany, Spain or Argentina on an off-day? Yes.
Will Germany, Spain or Argentina have off-days in such a huge competition? Unlikely.
But as Michael Owen would say: “you’ve got to score more goals than the other team to win.” So we will see what happens come June!