John Aldridge: The hype machine has gone into overdrive but I'm still not convinced by this England team
THE hype machine has moved into overdrive in England after a dramatic opening few days to the knock-out stage of the competition - but I am sticking with my original pick to lift that wonderful golden trophy in Moscow on July 15th.
There can be no denying that England have been presented with their best chance in a generation and more to get to a World Cup final, with Spain’s shock defeat against a very average Russia team on Sunday the latest boost to the hopes of Gareth Southgate and his squad.
Croatia now appear to be the best team left in the relatively weak bottom half of the World Cup draw, but the reality remains that we still don’t know how good this England team are after their opening three games out in Russia.
Beating Tunisia with a last-minute goal and backing it up by hammering a Panama side that were third rate at best does not confirm to me that England have been transformed from big outsiders before this competition started to one of the favourites now.
Clearly their chances have improved by the exits of Germany, Argentina, Portugal and Spain, but is anyone convinced this set of England players are good enough to grasp the opportunity that has been presented to them?
Harry Kane aside, I’m struggling to name any England player that the other nations in this World Cup would want in their side and when I look at their defence, I just don’t see them keeping out top players if they get into the semi-finals or even the final.
Jordan Pickford is an untested keeper, Kyle Walker has looked shaky in a defensive three and I would wonder how Harry Maguire and John Stones would cope trying to hold off the best players in the world if England get to play Brazil, France or even Croatia.
I think we all know the answer to that question, so even if a few people in England are paying for trips to Russia to watch Southgate and his class of 2018 lift the biggest trophy in the sport, I just don’t see that happening.
Plenty of teams in this World Cup would quite fancy playing an England team with their uneasy back three and with those players in front of young Pickford in goal, I’d suggest they will need an awful lot of luck to get through to the final.
Every team in the bottom half of the draw will see this as a glorious opportunity to make history, but that expectation also brings additional pressure and we don’t know how teams will cope with that.
France look like the team to beat to me and even if they showed some flaws in their make-up in the thrilling win against Argentina on Saturday, they have the kind of players you need to win tournaments like this.
Kylian Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann are top class forwards who will not be daunted by the prospect of trying to win the World Cup and even if there are some question marks over the tactical planning of their coach Didier Deschamps, the door is opening for them to have a real go at winning this competition.
I also like the look of Croatia, despite their stuttering display against Denmark on Sunday, with Luka Modric and his compatriots playing a good brand of football that makes them a real threat.
As for England, let’s watch them in their first serious test of this World cup against a tough Colombia side tonight and if they come through that game, maybe then they could be hailed as serious contenders to get to the final.
Until they get a win against opposition that have players who actually play at a serious level every week, we should all be cautious about backing England to succeed at this World Cup.
Oh and if they do go out of the World Cup tonight, all the English media that have been hyping up Southgate as some kind of managerial genius will change their tune very quickly.