England look solid but it gets tougher from here

Last Updated: Sun, Jun 24, 2018 21:55 hrs

Two matches, eight goals, five for Harry Kane including a hat trick, two more for John Stones. It’s safe to say that England are looking pretty good at the World Cup so far!

But let’s be honest. No disrespect to these teams but England have only played Tunisia and Panama, who are not exactly countries with the greatest footballing histories. But let’s look beyond that for a moment and focus on England.

Having invented the sport, there’s always been pressure on England to win the World Cup. They won it once in 1966, playing on home soil. And ever since then, every England team travelling to the World Cup has been under pressure to repeat that. And with each passing tournament, the pressure has only increased.

A decade ago, England boasted a team with the likes of David Beckham, Paul Scholes, Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard. And that’s just the midfield, add the likes of John Terry and Wayne Rooney and you can understand why every Englishman thought they would finally win the cup. A great team on paper but they never gelled together and sadly they never even came close to winning the coveted trophy.

But this England side is a younger, fresher lot. While you cannot say they are more talented than the England of the noughties, they are a more balanced side that seem to know how to play as a unit.

Despite playing well in the opening match against Tunisia, they were wasteful. Thankfully for them, Kane scored twice, including a late winner, to help them start their World Cup campaign on a winning note. But against Panama, all their attacking prowess was on display.

Yes, two of the strikes were penalties and the third was a lucky deflection, but right place right time and all that, and Kane did well to become only the third Englishman to score a World Cup hat trick. Stones scored two good headers and the pick of the lot was undoubtedly the long-range curler from Jesse Lingard.

Their attacking intent diminished after their sixth strike and Panama did manage a late consolation but England had done enough by then to show that they mean business.

They now have to build on this momentum because it only gets more difficult from here. Their final group game is against Belgium, their toughest opponents in the group. Luckily, they get to to play them with qualification already secure for both sides. Because of this, both teams might choose to rest some of their stars even though the top of the table spot is still up for grabs.

After that, it boils down to who they face in the Round of 16. But whoever it is, it’s going to be make or break. But on the evidence of what we’ve seen so far, this England side are up for the task. Delle Alli and Marcus Rashford didn’t even feature against Panama, where they recorded their biggest ever World Cup win.

The only concern is whether they have peaked too early in the tournament. In the current format of the tournament, you play seven matches at a World Cup. So it is theoretically believed that you should hit top gear in the fourth or fifth match. So resting stars against Belgium might backfire if it results in a defeat and that disrupts their momentum.

They will also have to ignore the media frenzy that's only going to increase exponentially after these two results. But from everything we’ve seen so far, you wouldn’t put it past Gareth Southgate’s team to end the wait that’s been going on since 1966.

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