As you might've heard by now: it's coming home.
All that stands in England's way en route to lifting Jules Rimet is: Colombia, Switzerland or Sweden, Croatia or Russia and (probably) France, Belgium or Brazil. E.A.S.Y. Call the engravers, get the bunting out, arise Sir Gareth, this one's a wrap.
Actually saying that, there is one thing I have noticed and it relates to England's knockout record.
Southgate has done a hell of a job changing the perception of England, incubating an exciting young side by helping them to play, for the most, without the suffocating inhibitions of fear and pressure. However, while six points and eight goals in the group stages have been the air freshener tree hanging from the rearview mirror of the bandwagon, we will only know how potent this breath of fresh air is until this new England face their oldest fear: knockout football.
England have not won a single World Cup knockout game since 2006 (a 1-0 victory over Ecuador courtesy of a David Beckham free kick). For comparison, in that time, among the Three Lions' European rivals, Netherlands have five knockout wins, Spain have won four, same as France and Italy, while Germany have eight victories (the same as England in their entire World Cup history). Even Portugal have two. To compound the embarrassment further here's a helpful list of teams that have reached a semi-final since England last did.
Things get bleaker still when you look at England knockout wins against good teams, or rather the lack thereof. For the sake of argument let's call 'tier 1': Uruguay, Italy, Brazil, England, Germany, Argentina, France, Spain, Belgium, Portugal plus the pre-70s versions of Hungary, Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union.
In the history of the tournament, England have won just four times against 'tier 1' opposition in knockout scenarios - and three of those came in 1966. Excluding 1966, 1990 and the times England didn't even make it out the group stage, the Three Lions have basically exited the World Cup at the moment they have been paired against one of the better sides.
|Team||No of FWC appearances||Total Knockout Wins||Total Knockout Wins Against 'Tier 1' Sides||Knockout Wins Since Change to 32 Team Format
*Table comparing England's knockout record to some European rivals, not including results from 2018 World Cup.
By courtesy of Germany, Spain and Argentina's failures (and Adnan Januzaj's second half curler), England, now squarely on the sunny side of the draw, have the possibility of avoiding one of those sides that normally knock us out before the final.
There are echoes of Germany's route to an improbable final in 2002. Smashed by England in qualifying (I think I'm right in saying even Heskey scored in that one), little was expected of the Germans in Japan and Korea, but simply not falling foul of the banana skins which tripped up the likes of Italy, Spain, France and Argentina gave them a relatively clear road (Belgium, USA, South Korea) to Yokohama.
Germany, however, - vintage or not - were used to the expectations and pressures of tournament football. England are very much not.
Southgate's side came into this tournament giddily permitted to play with the freedom of just another also-ran but have now been thrust back into the cycle of expectation, with Baddiel and Skinner's famous refrain lilting from ironic aside to insatiable demand.
Crushing Panama is one thing, three knockout wins in the next two weeks to make the final (one more than in the last 20 years) is entirely another. If England can do that however, football may not necessarily come home, but the biggest curse of English football will have been sent away.