Equal Time: England have their work cut out to get to the World Cup
Many people believe England are a top candidate to win the World Cup. Even more so now that powerhouses Spain, Argentina and Germany are out. The phrase “it’s coming home” is making the rounds on social media.
One needs to reach the final before having a real shot at winning the tournament, however, and while it’s undeniable England have an easier path than expected, that does not mean they are set to cruise their way towards the decisive match. Nothing could be further from the truth.
England must first deal with Colombia, a difficult team loaded with talented players who play in Europe's top leagues. With or without James Rodriguez, Colombia will be a tough team to beat. The Three Lions will have to account for Juan Guillermo Cuadrado, Radamel Falcao and unlock the centre-back duo of Davinson Sanchez and Yerry Mina.
A potential quarterfinal match won't be easier. Gareth Southgate's squad would face either Switzerland or Sweden.
The Swiss already proved they can compete, drawing against Brazil in the group stage. Di Nati have produced some impressive results of late. They are riding a nine-game undefeated streak.
Sweden are even more surprising. They came close to defeating Germany, thrashed Mexico, and topped Group F in stellar fashion. That was not easy. Their confidence is riding high, and God knows teams with momentum are extremely difficult in knockout stages.
So, what if England gets to the semifinals? Logic would have said Spain would be waiting, but La Roja fell to penalties against Russia. The home side has won three of four games and, like Sweden, are playing well above their expectations. The loss to Uruguay wasn't encouraging, but it was virtually a dead rubber. Stanislav Cherchesov may have counselled his charges to conserve their energy. No team wants to play the host nation in a meaningful match.
Croatia is the other option. Make no mistake with the Balkan side; they are a genuine darkhorse contender to reach the Final. The Blazers didn’t look their best against Denmark, but had a stellar performance in the group stage. Zlatko Dalic fields a deadly attacking line spearheaded by Mario Mandzukic and featuring Ivan Perisic and Ante Rebic, one of the top young players on Russian soil thus far. Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic constantly feed the trio. The Barcelona midfielder has been excellent while his Real Madrid counterpart is a bonafide contender to win the Golden Ball.
Croatia are the best team in this side of the draw by a wide margin. They might not have the individual quality England boasts, but they make up for it with experience and team chemistry. Their possession-based style will trouble the Three Lions.
England can the final match of the tournament. But it’s wrong to assume that they’re the best in their side of the draw or that reaching the final is a walk in Gorky Park. Fans can think as they like, but if their attitude infects Gareth Southgate's squad, it will be fatal.