With the FIFA 2018 World Cup progressing into the knockout stages of the competition, the battle to earn global footballing supremacy has intensified. With Germany being knocked out in the group stages, it means that the title of world champions will be passed on come Sunday, July 15.
One of the 16 nations that were successful in progressing out of the group stage was England and with a quartet of Manchester United players amongst their ranks, it is fair to say that fans of the Red Devils will be keeping a close eye on the progress of the Three Lions.
Confidence has undoubtedly been high throughout the England camp after wins over both Tunisia and Panama, and that optimistic mood has been reflected up and down the country as fans have been basking in the summer sun while supporting the national team.
This belief is now being reflected in England’s odds to win the tournament. A World Cup Betfair market currently has them as fourth favourites, at a price of 8/1 as they look for their first win in the competition since 1966.
That mood may have been tempered slightly after defeat to Belgium. In a game which saw both sides make multiple changes, it was a former United starlet who scored the game’s only goal. Adnan Januzaj’s second-half strike proved to be the difference as Roberto Martinez’s men finished top of Group G.
Defeat has halted England’s momentum, but at the same time, it could well prove to be a blessing in disguise as they now have a perceived easier route to the final. After avoiding a potential quarter-final clash with Brazil, manager Gareth Southgate now has to make sure that his young squad take full advantage of the hand that they have been dealt.
If England are to exceed the expectations that were set before the tournament, then they will need the likes of Jesse Lingard and Marcus Rashford to deliver when it really matters. That said, it has been a competition of contrasting fortunes for the two United attackers.
Lingard was impressive in the first half against Tunisia in England’s opening game but lacked the goal his efforts deserved, something he put right in the 6-1 thrashing of Panama with a sensational strike that put England 3-0 up and all but wrapped up the victory.
Rashford, however, has not quite grabbed his opportunity with both hands. There was no doubting he had a positive influence after coming on a substitute against Tunisia, but when handed a starting berth against Belgium he was guilty of missing two clear-cut chances.
However the 20-year-old never seems to be phased by playing on the game’s biggest stages and you get the feeling that should the opportunity present itself once more, then next time around, the forward will show just how ruthless he can be in front of goal.
That ruthlessness could well be the difference between England progressing and being sent home, such are the fine margins in a competition such as this. At the same time, both Lingard and Rashford seem to play without fear, something that could well mean that they end up adding international honours to the ones they have already won with Manchester United.