England’s forward Raheem Sterling (C) takes part in a training session in Repino, Russia on June 15, 2018 during the Russia 2018 World Cup football tournament. / AFP PHOTO / PAUL ELLIS
The joke in Russia is that if England won the on-going World Cup, football commentary would take a new dimension with every match commentator always reminding soccer fans of the feat in every game. Thus, listeners would be inundated with names of English World Cup players: “Tottenham’s Harry Kane, who scored England’s match in the World Cup final, battles with Manchester City’s John Stones, a player that featured in every single game to ensure the World Cup trophy returned home.
“Flying down the flanks is Raheem Sterling, the mercurial winger that crossed the ball more times than any other player at the World Cup, where the Three Lions took its right position in world football.”
Every English newspaper you read and every fan you encounter will tell you that now is the best possible time for football to return home, meaning that England, credited with inventing the game, is set to win the competition for the second time after its 1966 triumph.
This week, an English store, Asda, launched operation ‘It’s Coming Home’ from its London “Southgate” store in time for today’s England’s quarter-final against Sweden, following the first ever World Cup penalty shootout win for the Three Lions.
According to the English press, Operation ‘It’s Coming Home’ means “Asda colleagues at all stores who want time off for the most anticipated match in years can work with their local store to make a substitution, with a shift swap where possible. The plan also includes showing the 3pm Saturday kick off in colleague areas at all stores and letting those on shift wear their World Cup shirts.
“It expects that sales of bangers, meatballs and BBQ’s are to increase by 1966 per cent in the next four days. 8.5 Million sausages, 500,000 Swedish meatballs and more than one million KG of charcoal is set to be sold as Brits prepare for the match the best way they know how to.During the World Cup Asda expects to sell over three million litres of beer – almost enough to fill the Olympic Pool from London 2012.”
It added that colleagues that want a substitute on their shifts are able to organise this with their store where it’s possible and extra bangers, booze and even Swedish meatballs are being delivered to stores in anticipation for a sales surge.“We’re prepared, the England boys are prepared, hopefully our customers are prepared, it’s coming home,” it said.
That is the extent of the expectations that England will beat Sweden at Samara Arena today and go on to win the FIFA World Cup 2018. England fans are starting to believe they can end a 52-year wait to win the World Cup, but they face a Scandinavian side that has a habit of upsetting the odds, particularly against England, having lost just one of their eight previous competitive meetings.
In qualifying for the quarterfinal, Sweden topped Group F, which also had Germany, and defeated Switzerland in the second round. But fans of the Three Lions have discountenanced such statistics in their fervent belief that the 4-3 penalty shootout defeat of Colombia points that the gods are finally in support of their quest for glory.This optimism is shared by the England players, who feel the cup is within their reach. “We’d like to bring it home,” England defender, John Stones told the press on Thursday. “I’d love to win a World Cup, England would love to win a World Cup.“It’s been a long time since we last won it. We want to make people proud back home.”
Stones’ coach, Gareth Southgate, also believes in the ability of his team to move to the semifinals. But he says a place in the quarterfinals of the World Cup represents progress not success and wants to achieve more than a warm welcome when the squad finally returns home.He believes the Three Lions can achieve the ultimate goal, which is winning the title, adding, however, that the team must take each game as it comes.
Speaking to FIFA.com, Southgate said: “We have made progress but we haven’t achieved success yet. My feet are firmly on the ground. I’ve been in football for 30 years, and I’ve had plenty of ups and downs.“That night (against Colombia) was a great night for all of us but my focus was pretty quickly on to Sweden because we are in the last eight of a World Cup. We want more of those experiences and we want to go as far as we possibly can.
“It’s nice to see that people are happy, are talking about it at work and it’s a privilege to have that opportunity.”The current Three Lions have won over fans, who were embarrassed by the defeat by Iceland at Euro 2016. It seems that loss never happened as the fans strut the streets of Russia claiming that not even the hosts can halt their ambition.
Already, English fans have started making plans for a semifinal berth against either Croatia or Russia, but Stones warns his colleagues that being carried away by the fans’ belief could be dangerous. “I think if you say it’s an easy game in a quarterfinal of a World Cup then you are pretty stupid to say that.“Sometimes they can throw you, these teams. They can go kind of under the radar, but there is no question they are a good team. They wouldn’t be where they are if they weren’t.”
Sweden is happy to wear the underdog tag even when they have faced a much tougher route to the quarterfinal. They got good results against France, the Netherlands and Italy in qualifying, as well as topping a group containing Germany and Mexico in this tournament.Sweden, led by Andreas Granqvist, are happy to sacrifice possession, defend deep and wait for their opportunity on the counter-attack, they will let England have most of the ball.
Looking forward to a thrilling encounter, Granqvist admits that England have better players on paper, adding, “we let them have the ball in the places we want them to have the ball.”Sweden rely on their solid defence, which has kept three clean sheets in four games in Russia, but coach Janne Andersson will be forced into at least one change at the back, with Celtic’s Mikael Lustig suspended.
“Sweden are good on the counter-attack and we need to be aware of that,” warned England wing-back Kieran Trippier.“We just need to move the ball quickly if they do sit off. We need to manage the game well and make the pitch as wide as possible.”
England has a series of injury doubts ahead of today’s last clash, with striker Jamie Vardy unable to play a full part in training with his team-mates on Thursday.The Leicester striker sustained a groin strain during the last-16 penalty shootout victory over Colombia on Tuesday, a problem that required an injection, and he was only able to take part in yesterday morning’s training session in Zelenogorsk.
He took part in his own recovery exercises.Aside Vardy, every other member of Gareth Southgate’s squad was fit enough to train, including Fabian Delph following his return to Russia after his wife gave birth to their third child.The England boss has allayed concerns over the fitness of Dele Alli, Ashley Young and Kyle Walker, but suggested as many as three players are in question heading into the Sweden match.A win for England will take them to their first semifinal since 1990, while a Swedish victory will take the Scandinavians back to the last four for the first time since 1994.