Thursday 24 January 2019

Comment: Why it will take something truly exceptional before the English bandwagon rolls again

England manager Gareth Southgate (centre) and Marcus Rashford celebrate after the final whistle
England manager Gareth Southgate (centre) and Marcus Rashford celebrate after the final whistle
Kevin Palmer

Kevin Palmer

"England were exceptional," declared a jubilant Gary Lineker, as the mood began to swing in a familiar fashion across his nation on Monday night.

It was a solitary word that sparked a huge reaction on social media channels, with the debate over the quality of England's 2-1 win against Tunisia set to rumble on until they play again against Panama on Sunday.

Yet as the stadium announcer in Volgograd played 'Football's Coming Home', England's lament to their years of hurt at international level as they started their latest major tournament adventure on Monday night, a familiar story was set to unfold once again.

With one flick of Kane's neck, the English bandwagon rolled into motion. The time has come to abandon the pre-tournament hype suggesting England would do well to reach the quarter-finals and expectations should be lowered as the horse has now bolted.

All the pessimism can now be reversed neatly into oblivion. England are going to win the World Cup and anyone who doubts it needs to stay silent until the inevitable heartache arrives.

Acceptable may have been a more apt word to describe a performance that needed a last-minute goal to turn an angry reaction to scenes of jubilation across the nation, with familiar foes going into battle on Twitter to highlight the divided opinion as Lineker and TV presenter Pier Morgan renewed social media warfare:

What happens next? Much will depend on their next two group game against Panama and Belgium, but if those games are won, we can expect wild euphoria to creep into the English mindset.

Soon it will be time to look for dates for potential open top bus parades through London, not to mention the Knighthoods and bronze to commemorate the England heroes of 2018, with this BBC video poking fun at the English obsession with believing in the impossible.

That BBC video is very much a tongue-in-cheek dig at the English reaction every time the World Cup rolls around and the responses to the video on Twitter suggested fans did not approve of the hype machine kicking into gear after so many false dawns down the years.

But we can anticipate that sensible analysis will be replaced with belief that football is, finally, about to come home now that a win has been etched onto the board.

Never mind the fact that they only just beat a team that seemed determined to set a new record for failing to step over the half-way line. Never mind that Tunisia may be one of the worst teams in this summer's World Cup. All that is irrelevant when England are in a World Cup.

One win inspires most Englishmen to conclude that an opening win in Group G means the rest of the world will be quaking in their boots at the prospect of taking on Harry Maguire, Jesse Lingard and the rest of Southgate's 'dream team'.

"The other teams will look at that first half performance and they won't fancy playing England," declared a bullish Rio Ferdinand on the BBC. "The Tunisians had three or four England players bearing down on them whenever they had the ball - Kane, Dele Alli and Jesse Lingard were swarming around them - like bees around honey. In the first 25 minutes we were excellent."

The suggestion that Brazil, Spain or any of the World Cup favourites will be wary of playing an England side that laboured through the second half in Volgograd in laughable, yet don't mention that reality to the 21 million fans who tuned in to watch Kane's heroics on Monday night.

If Ireland had qualified for this World Cup and we had beaten Tunisia with a last-minute Seani Maguire goal, similar scenes would have been played in Tallaght, Tullamore to Tuam and yet England's expectations should be a little more inflated.

If England march into the quarter-finals with a dominant win in the last-16 and show signs that their frailties of yesteryear have been erased, then the hype machine can crank into gear with justifiable glee.

Yet for now, it is fair to suggest it require something exceptional to change a depressing script that has been followed religiously by England for the last five decades. Something truly exceptional.

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