Football’s Eternal Question: Is This Going to be England’s World Cup?

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Football’s Eternal Question: Is This Going to be England’s World Cup?

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

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ngland faced Belgium in a dead rubber at Kaliningrad, in a game that nobody wanted to win. Since the winner of the match would potentially get the tougher draw in the further rounds, both teams made bulk changes to their first XI like it was a Big Bazaar exchange offer sale. Tackles flew thick and fast as inconsequential substitutes collected yellow cards like candies on Halloween. But one man didn’t get the memo, as Adnan Janujaz thumped the ball past Jordan Pickford to give Belgium an unwanted victory.

England will be happy to lose this battle, because they could still win the war.

“Is this going to be England’s World Cup?” is the international version of “Is this going to be Arsenal’s year?” In the run-up to every edition, fans are convinced that England will be unbeatable. Yet, what England historically boasted in quality and big names, was undone by bizarre blunders, bad luck, and colossal mismanagement as they became the laughing stock of many a World Cup. Supporting England is like inviting yourself to a party full of stress, sadness, pity, and heartbreak. It’s like being in a relationship that isn’t working but you just can’t walk away from it.

I still cannot fathom how a midfield of Beckham, Gerrard, Scholes, and Lampard didn’t win a World Cup. It’s like watching the combination of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah lose an election. As that golden generation bowed out, it was Wayne Rooney’s spirited generation that took over and everyone thought they had it in them to go the distance. But it would just never happen, like MNS winning a major election in Maharashtra.

This is why the build-up to this tournament was special. The year 2018 marked a rare World Cup where England arrived sans their usual hype and unwarranted swagger. Until the first kickoff whistle blew.

Prior to the World Cup, fans and pundits didn’t have high expectations from this young England squad. For once, they walked into their first game unfettered by the shackles of high hopes. There is a golden sales mantra that states “Under-promise, over-deliver”. It is exactly what England has done so far in Russia.

“Hurri-kane” puns have made it to newspaper headlines and the British media, much like desi parents, have started ramping up the pressure.

Harry Kane’s young team dazzled in their group stage games against Tunisia and Panama, thrashing the latter to a 6-1 score line. Solid in defence, controlling in midfield, and finding the back of the net as often as Arvind Kejriwal has tendered an apology lately. The last time a bunch of English lads showed such flair, communication, and joy with their art, The Beatles were still together.

The England national team has come a full circle – with zero expectations prior to the tournament, to two good performances, to a truckload of expectations overnight. “Hurri-kane” puns have made it to newspaper headlines and the British media, much like desi parents, have started ramping up the pressure. The old whispers of “Can they go all the way?” have begun.

Once again, everyone associated with the England football team – the fans, the press, the nation have convinced themselves that this is the team that is going to get them the cup. Once again, it is time to ask the heartbreaking, soul-crushing, and nostalgia-inducing question – Is this, finally, going to be England’s World Cup?

They are young, they are playing well, and they have an easy draw. No pressure, but you better win the goddamn World Cup now.

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