England Comes of Age in Russian Heat

England Comes of Age in Russian Heat

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Harry Kane, England’s talismanic strike and, arguably, only truly world class player, was mobbed by
his teammates with just minutes to go in the Three Lions opening match in the FIFA World Cup. Kane
had just scored the winning goal (his second) in a hard-fought, yet merited, 2-1 victory over Tunisia
in Volgograd. The, somewhat overzealous, reaction resulted in lots of ribbing on social media, mainly
from Irish, Scottish and Welsh fans who see it as something of a national obligation to laugh at
England’s follies. After all, it was ‘only’ Tunisia.

To understand the reaction from the English players though, you must understand the England
national team and its tortured history with major tournaments over the last few decades. They often
enter a tournament just outside the top tier of teams expected to win (they were in fact seventh-
favourites at around 18/1 with major sportsbooks to win it all in Russia). However, the modern
England team has rarely played like the sixth or seventh best team.

Media pressure seems to be off England’s backs

Tracking the British media reaction over the last couple of decades has been an exercise in
overreaction and mood swings. From the chest-thumping overconfidence of the early 2000s to the
unfair criticisms of players in later years, the sports media has generally got it wrong when it comes
to England. Before this tournament, there was a lot more apathy, an acceptance that England would
be, well, unremarkable.

The opening game against Tunisia, however, was pleasantly different to what England have served
up in the past. England played with a freedom and zest that surprised fans and critics alike. In a
tournament were the original favourites, Germany and Brazil, both suffered in their opening games,
England played above their current level. For large swathes of the match, the team ranked seventh

by the sportsbooks produced the best soccer of the tournament so far. England created numerous
chances, were unlucky to concede a dubious penalty and kept belief in their own style of play
throughout the game. The scoreline dramatically flattered the North Africans.

England’s odds slashed

The sportsbooks had to react: the latest World Cup 2018 from Mr Green shows England’s odds have
been cut to 12/1, on a par with Lionel Messi’s Argentina and a lot closer to champions Germany
(8/1) than at the start of the tournament. Only Spain (now at 9/2) and Belgium (17/2) of the ‘big
nations’ have joined England by dropping in the odds based on performances in the opening games.

Of course, there is nothing to say that England have turned a corner after so many years of
disappointment. Indeed, by the time you read this, England could have put on a horror show against
their next opponents, Panama. There were negatives from the Tunisia game too, including lackluster
performances from Dele Alli and Raheem Sterling. But, on a whole, England delivered in a way they
haven’t in many years on the grand stage.

Young side delivers

There will be tougher tests to be sure, especially when it comes to facing the top nations later on in
the tournament. But as a first test for an England team constantly in a state of rehabilitation, they
passed with flying colours. More of the same and there is no limit to how far they can go. As there
are so many EPL stars in the team, it’s easy to forget that England are one of youngest sides in the
tournament. They came of age in a balmy night in Volgograd.