For a team who would have been happy with a good showing in a valiant semi-final defeat, England are fast rivaling the favourites for this World Cup.
Playing a tape to the end is an exercise that the 2018 edition of the tournament has shown to be futile, as some of the biggest favourites have been dumped out of the competition, but England remain – and their potential path to the final could hardly be easier.
It might be hubristic to speak in such terms, but the facts are there for all to see – England are the biggest name team in their side of the draw, and a place in the final should be their minimum aim for the rest of the campaign.
And yet there is a worry about the Three Lions. The same one we could have raised about Spain, Germany and Argentina: have England really convinced?
A 6-1 victory over Panama was certainly convincing, but then that was only Panama. A last-gasp win over Tunisia sounds bad, but arguably that was England’s best game of the tournament; certainly it was in the first 30 minutes. And then there was Belgium – a game which told us absolutely nothing about Gareth Southgate’s team and its ability to go far in this tournament.
So onto a knockout round where England could well be tested seriously for the first time, and in a game where failure means the plane home.
We might also see the steel the Three Lions hold within.
Much has been made of the fact that the countries Pep Guardiola has managed in have won the last two World Cups: Spain when he was in charge of Barcelona and Germany when he had the reigns of Bayern Munich. But England’s spine doesn’t come from Manchester but further south – in north London.
England are a side filled with Tottenham players, and that’s part of what makes them so exciting – Mauricio Pochettino’s side are one of the most exciting in the world and they undeniably fit together as a team.
And yet, you wonder if that will just make England Spursy.
For the last two years, those Tottenham players in the squad have shown promise only to come up short. They’ve been to the semi-finals of the FA Cup only to lose at Wembley both times. They’ve dazzled in the Champions League only to see a wiley old team of grizzled pros manage to somehow get themselves over the line.
Most worryingly for England, 2016 could be the omen.
2015/16 was the year Leicester City won the Premier League title. They did so in remarkably similar fashion to what we’re witnessing in this World Cup. The biggest and best teams fell by the wayside and Leicester found themselves in a title race with Tottenham. Spurs themselves weren’t established as a top team that season, but they should still have been finishing above the Foxes.
This year, if England are relying on Tottenham players to get them over the line in a World Cup Three Lions fans really are salivating over, you wonder if that isn’t a worrying turn of events.