Ian Hart: England to reach World Cup semi-final

England manager Gareth Southgate. Picture by Michael Gillen (Johnston Press)
England manager Gareth Southgate. Picture by Michael Gillen (Johnston Press)

I'm from a generation that recalls two summers in the 1970s when in the face of the failure of the England football team, they failed to qualify for the World Cup finals - not once but twice - we ended up supporting Scotland in the days when it was widely acceptable to cross the footballing divide.

In fact this week saw the 40th anniversary of Archie Gemmil’s legendary goal against Holland in Argentina and, if you’ve got the time to drag yourself away from Love Island, I heartily recommend a documentary available on the BBC iPlayer which tells the story of Ally McLeod’s Scotland squad of 1978 and their belief that they could come back from South America with the trophy (I kid you not, you need to watch it).

Possibly a lame excuse in England’s defence - for the ‘74 and ‘78 World Cup finals - only 16 teams were in both showpieces. Obviously as the beautiful game has developed across the globe it’s double that, although unfortunately this summer England are the only home nation representing the UK.

Aside from the success in 1966, which unfortunately I was too young to remember, England’s World Cup history is littered with failure and disappointment - 2-0 up against the West Germans in Mexico - Bobby Charlton was subbed in preparation for the semi-final before a comeback, which still tops many England World Cup horror lists.

Penalty shootouts, goalkeeping errors, abject performances, even downright cheating from the then current best player in the world back in 1986, it’s been a rollercoaster and whilst the nation is always gripped by World Cup fever, it always seems to ultimately end with disappointment.

Until now? Gareth Southgate’s squad arrive in Russia as collectively the youngest in the tournament, an exciting array of talent but actually on the face of it, for the first time in my lifetime watching the national team, not that much expectation.

And does no real expectation equate to no pressure?

Not quite, whilst no one is really predicting England will win the trophy, to not get out of the group containing Belgium, Panama and Tunisia would represent yet another failure.

Having been let down by our national team on numerous occasions over the years, I’m actually excited by this squad.

We have the talent in this squad to win football matches, it’s all a case of whether Harry Kane and co can do it on the biggest stage in the game. I’m confident that we will get through the group, ironically it appears it will be a more favourable draw in the knockout stages if we come second, and I’m going to stick my neck out and say that we will make the quarter-finals, beating the Germans, before exiting in the semi-finals against Brazil, who along with France, look the likely winners. But even if we don’t beat the Germans in the last-eight, it will represent a decent tournament and give Southgate firm foundations for the Euros in two years time.

And will Spurs fans secretly be hoping Harry Kane doesn’t win the Golden Boot as you do wonder if Daniel Levy will be able to resist if the likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona or PSG coming knocking at White Hart Lane with their respective cheque books in August?

Then again for the rest of us, Harry winning it will clearly equate to us having a great tournament. So a month on planet football beckons, with VAR added, against the unfortunate backdrop of political disputes and potential racial issues. Hopefully at the end of it all we’re all talking about the football rather than other things.