It was hard work and they left it late, but England eventually got over the line against Tunisia on Monday night thanks to captain Harry Kane.
Somewhat remarkably, that gave them a first opening group game victory in a tournament since the 2006 World Cup. So, as you’d expect, positivity about the country’s footballing hopes is now peaking – particularly given the struggles the likes of Germany and Argentina have endured so far in Russia.
And while a second win should (on paper at least) be on the cards this Sunday against Panama, it may actually be more beneficial to the Three Lions if they fall short to a team ranked 55th in the world.
Here are six reasons why…
1. Virtually everyone else is playing rubbish, so we may as well do
Let’s look at the evidence here. Germany, the reigning world champions, put in a woeful performance and went down 1-0 to Mexico in their opening game.
Two-time winners Argentina couldn’t break down Iceland and got thumped by Croatia. Brazil and Spain have looked pretty uninspiring.
And yet almost all of them (sorry, Mr Messi) remain tournament favourites. Could it be that they actually know what they’re doing?
Playing badly to lull fellow tournament rivals into a false sense of security? When you compare England’s second-half performance to the preceding 45 minutes against Tunisia, it looks like even they worked it out.
A defeat against Panama could be a masterstroke from Southgate’s troops when it comes to their long-term tournament hopes.
2. It’d make England vs Belgium unmissable
England vs Belgium was supposed to be one of the mouth-watering ties of tournament’s entire group stage.
Top footballing quality on display, Premier League teammates and rivals going head-to-head all over the pitch, not to mention the mass arrival of England fans to Russia 2018 given the more accessible venue that is nowhere-near-Russia-but-definitely-still-counts-as-Russia Kaliningrad.
However, victories for both sides in the second round of games would mean this fixture would essentially be a qualification dead rubber with only a different onward path to fight over between Group G’s top two. BORING!
Fall to the Central Americans and England will have the nation on tenterhooks with the following Thursday night’s showdown becoming an unmissable occasion. Especially, now you know how to survive pub viewing for such an event…
— Paddy Power (@paddypower) June 20, 2018
3. It could give us a better route to winning the whole bloody thing
With many other results not going as expected across the tournament, topping the group may not even offer England the benefits it otherwise would have later in the tournament. The above will neatly explain exactly what we mean:
So, losing on Sunday will actually end up guaranteeing England their first World Cup final appearance since 1966. Maybe.
— Sean Fay (@Sean_Fay) June 20, 2018
4. It’d be nice to give Panama their first World Cup win
Panama didn’t enter World Cup qualification until 1978 and they’ve had 40 years of hurt since then.
For all their joy of Russia 2018 marking their very first appearance at the finals, it’s fair to say their bow against Belgium didn’t entirely go to plan: going down 3-0 on Monday afternoon.
However, how good would it be for Panama if their first proper World Cup win came against the Three Lions? What a story that’d be – nice ol’ England giving minnows Panama a leg up on the international footage stage, a business they’re clearly in following Euro 2016’s exit against Iceland.
And hey, all publicity is good publicity, right? People would be talking about the result for years to come. It’s enough to bring a tear to the eye.
5. We’d get to see some more pundit meltdowns
So far we’ve had Martin O’Neill and Slaven Bilic stopping just short of entering a boxing ring to settle their debate over VAR.
If Panama pick up all three points against England, can you imagine how Messrs Lineker, Ferdinand, Lampard, Shearer and co would react – especially after the ever-so-slightly promising start against Tunisia?
It’d be a brilliantly watchable mix of incredulity and infuriation. Bring it on.
6. It’d be good for Gareth Southgate’s well-being
Understandably, gaffer Gareth Southgate went mental when Harry Kane’s last-minute header steered his England team to victory against Tunisia, squeezing in more leaps and air punches in five seconds than a five hour gym class.
Then he went and dislocated his shoulder whilst out running near the team’s Repino training base during the week. Ouch. Yes, he’s already out of the sling and on the mend, but will he be able to resist celebrating with as much passion if England leave it late again?
We don’t want him popping out that shoulder again, so England failing to score must be for the best, right?