If this World Cup has shown one thing, it’s quite clearly been that not many people like England.
The English aside, most seem to be seething at the Three Lions’ success during this tournament and have been lumping on the reasons as to why it’s undeserved.
Most would argue that their run to the final (or semi-final if we’re splitting hairs) has been relatively easy.
Of course, in a World Cup, no run is ‘easy’ per se, but critics are suggesting that England’s has been something similar to a gentle stroll in the local recreational area.
We disagree. Clearly, Group G was not a quartet of rampant footballing quality. But a team can only beat that which is placed in front of it and victory against Belgium was quite evidently not desired.
On to Colombia, then. The South Americans were tipped as dark horses for this competition: the hipster’s favourite pub-talk tip.
Their ability was apparent in England’s reliance upon penalties to succeed against them.
But José Pékerman’s men were notably poorer than Gareth Southgate’s and it was a dirty, bitty game of football that lead to England’s nail-biting wobble.
Sweden were easier, yes, but still no pushovers. Whilst England deserved the victory, the Swedes were not dispatchable with much ease and no quarter-final can be seen as effortless work.
Knocking them out has now brought about England’s toughest challenge yet: Croatia. Another supposed dark horse, the Croats can boast among their side one of the greatest midfielders alive and a serious threat to England’s hopes of glory.
Beating them would ensure that Southgate’s route to the final can never be undermined again.
The run of Tunisia, Panama, Belgium, Colombia, Sweden, Croatia and then Belgium or France is far from pretty.
Well, when you compare it over time, that is.
So, to defend England’s honour, we’ve done a bit of digging around.
Investigative journalism isn’t dead over here at Paddy Power and we’ve trawled Wikipedia all the way back to England’s last World Cup triumph in 1966 to find the four easiest runs for World Cup finalists.
None of this lot got such a grumpy slagging off, however.
West Germany, 1990 – Winners
They didn’t have easy runs before the iconic Italia ‘90 competition, it would appear, and so West Germany are first on our list.
Lothar Matthäus captained a side that benefitted from the rather easy journey of Yugoslavia, the United Arab Emirates, Colombia, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, England and then Argentina.
Just like the Three Lions, the Germans’ only universally recognised threat first cropped up in the semi-finals, whereby they famously scraped a win over England on penalties.
The Dutch may have provided tough opposition, yes, but at exactly the same stage as Colombia had for England this year.
Brazil, 1994 – Winners
The Seleção may well have won the World Cup more times than any other country, but most sides would do well if they too faced runs as easy as Carlos Alberto Parreira’s men did in 1994.
Parreira is well seasoned in this historic tournament, having coached in the finals on six separate occasions.
With that kind of record, his sides could have made any tournament look easy regardless of their opponents.
So, when a rampant Brazil enjoyed a run comprised of Russia, Cameroon, Sweden, the USA, the Netherlands, Sweden again and then Italy, the gaffer must have been laughing all the way to the trophy.
Germany, 2002 – Runners-up
Although the Germans may wisely be keeping shtum following their historic tumbling out of Russia this year, to any who pipe up about England’s run being easy, remind them of 2002.
Brazil romped to victory yet again, but it was Rudi Völler’s side who would have enjoyed their restful stay in South Korea and Japan the most. Fielding a team weakened by injury, Völler’s men emphatically dismantled Saudi Arabia 8-0 in their first fixture and things stayed easy from there on in.
Their next two group games were against the Republic of Ireland (a tough one we’ll admit) and Cameroon and this set them up to face off with Paraguay, a surprisingly successful USA and co-hosts South Korea before being dispatched by the aforementioned Brazil.
They could have reached that final in their sleep. Lucky gits.
Italy, 2006 – Winners
The 2006 World Cup final was made infamous by Zinedine Zidane’s astonishing headbutt. But, something even more striking lay in the build up to Italy’s triumph.
The ease of their journey there – up until the last two games, much like England – may take you back even more so than Zizou’s Glaswegian kiss.
Here it goes: Ghana, the USA, the Czech Republic, Australia, Ukraine, Germany, France. For a side as stunningly good as the Italian’s in 2006 (look it up), this run was about as easy as things could get.
So, when England win on Sunday night, don’t undermine their success. Don’t deride their achievements and don’t harp on about their easy run.
Things have been far smoother for far better countries in years gone by. And those sods have gotten away with it.