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World Cup: Can Gareth Southgate's England side win the tournament?

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The nerve-wracking win over Colombia has raised English’s hopes that they may actually be able to bring football home.

Just like their hopes, their expectations of success have rocketed, but questions remain over the likeliness of England even being able to reach the finals.

England beat Colombia 4-3 in a penalty shoot-out, following a 1-1 draw in the first knockout round of the competition. The English will now head to Samara in southern Russia for their quarter-final match against Sweden.

England’s long-lasting history with penalties has often been considered a curse. With their last successful encounter being in Euro 96’,  when they knocked Spain out of the European championship. That victory is the last time England have been able to overcome the challenge in 7 competitive matches.

It seems like something lifted directly lifted from a Hollywood film that Gareth Southgate’s side were the ones to break the curse, following the England managers own penalty against Germany being saved back in the Euro’s in 1996.

It has been clear from the start of the contest that England would need to overcome their fear of penalties if they were to be seriously considered for the title. With that fear now overcome, the English camp will now look to their next obstacle, Sweden.

The Scandinavian’s are a side that the English have often rolled their eyes at in the past, despite only winning 1 out of 8 games in competitive contests. This arrogant attitude has frequently been repeated in English competitive history, with their 2-1 defeat against Iceland in Euro 2016 being a recent example.

Southgate has recently been applauded for his sterner attitude towards the Swedes and opponents that appear weaker on paper. Although it seems like England are taking them much more seriously, the Three Lions will still need to work hard to overcome their opponents.

Harry Kane and his teammates will need to overcome the resilience of their Swedish foes, as well as their unwavering unity. Their 1-0 victory against Switzerland in their last 16 match was the product of continued efforts on goal despite not being able to break down their defence. The Swedes will therefore not go missing during the game and will look to relentlessly attack the English defence.

England will need to capitalise on Sweden’s inability to convert their chances into goals, despite numerous attempts on goal. Their victory over the Swiss demonstrated their lack of a natural goal scorer of star quality, with their only goal coming from a fluke deflection.

With England boasting the likes of Harry Kane, Southgate's side undoubtedly has an advantage over their opponents in front of the goal.

Assuming that the English win and progress into the semi-finals, Southgate’s side will come up against a much more challenging opponent. The tournament's hosts, Russia, and Croatia will battle it out for the final spot, with Croatia looking to be the most likely to progress into the next game. 

The Croatians boast a highly talented team, with the likes of Real Madrid’s Modric asserting himself as a formidable threat in midfield, a talent that would easily walk into the English side. The Three Lions own midfield will, therefore, have a very difficult challenge in containing the elusive nature of the Croatian side.

England will need to find a way to expose gaps in Croatia's game in order to play the ball to the talented English forwards, Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling. Kane and Sterling need only a few chances in front of the goal in order to score, a quality highly valued to the Three Lions.

The Russian’s should not be scoffed at either, the home support will undoubtedly boost their team and potentially undo the English’s nerves. Russia also has the daunting forward, Artem Dzuyba in their ranks. Dzuyba’s imposing height asserts himself as a dangerous threat, especially in set pieces, an area that England have consistently conceded in.

England will, therefore, need to dominate possession as well as limiting any chances of set pieces within their own half if they are to seek progression into the tournament’s final.

Gareth Southgate has gone on record to say that he believes this is England’s best shot at making it to the final in many years, with the opportunity unlikely to reoccur again. The hardest challenge of all will be the final.

An incredible world-class team will take up the other spot, with Belgium and France battling for that one place. Both teams contain some of the sports best players and therefore pose real significant threats to Southgate’s youthful side.

What bodes well for Southgate is that both teams have faced fierce matches in a much more difficult route to the final. Their players may be a lot more worn out than the teams on the other side of the knockout stages, granting England a potential advantage.

Not only do England face a likelihood of another long wait for such a golden opportunity, but so do Russia, Sweden and Croatia. Whoever tackles the likes of Belgium and France in the final will, therefore, put their all into that match, not letting the trophy go without a fight.

Nothing is guaranteed in the World Cup, so it is entirely plausible that England could face an untimely exit against the Swedes or in the semi-finals. That being said, it is also incredibly possible they can make it to the final, if not go on to eventually lift the trophy.

One thing is clear; this is the best opportunity the Three Lions have had in years to finally gain eternal glory, just like Bobby Moore’s England did back in 1966.

Media Credit - Flickr Commons, Ben Sutherland. Twitter. FIFA. 

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