Within Gareth Southgate’s England squad, they talk about the shift in belief that has accompanied their progress through a World Cup semi-final to a European Championships final.
They no longer hope to win, they almost expect to. Heroic failure is no longer an option. The question is this: When will the public catch up?
In England, among the supporters and certain sections of the media, half a century or more of failure to win big tournament matches has taken its toll and maybe this is why tomorrow’s World Cup quarter-final against France is viewed by many as a bridge too far for Southgate’s team.
Gareth Southgate’s England squad don’t just believe, they expect to win the 2022 World Cup
The country still needs convincing ahead of the Three Lions quarter-final clash with France
Images of Kylian Mbappe and his five goals at this tournament are vivid, for sure. Antoine Griezmann, meanwhile, is so consistent at this level he has now played 71 consecutive games for his country.
But England have very good players too. Captain Harry Kane would get a place in any team at this World Cup while young Jude Bellingham is emerging as Qatar’s stand out talent.
The French are worried and concerned about our players. They do not see us as the underdogs we seem so happy to paint ourselves as.
Three Lions captain Harry Kane (pictured) would get a place in any team at the 2022 World Cup
‘We believe certainly as players, as individuals and a group,’ said full-back Kieran Trippier yesterday.
‘We need to perform, we know that, to make the supporters believe, to make you guys believe.
‘All we can ask for is support from fans back home and yourselves.
England have never beaten a major football nation away from home in a major tournament
‘Every time we cross that line, you can see we’re going to give everything, play good football, score goals and keep clean sheets as well.
‘As a team, all we can ask for us is support, which you’ve given us – certainly since I’ve been with England.’
The task ahead of England this weekend is significant. An English national team has never beaten a major football nation away from home in a major tournament. That is a startling and slightly daunting fact.
Southgate’s players insist it is one that doesn’t trouble them.
There are likely to be six survivors from the team that lost to Croatia in the 2018 semi-final in Moscow in Southgate’s team at the Al Bayt Stadium tomorrow night, as well as Eric Dier and Raheem Sterling on the substitutes’ bench.
These are the players who talk of the difference between then and now. Harry Maguire put it particularly well earlier this week as he recalled returning from Russia four and a half years ago to a hero’s welcome.
This time the Manchester United defender will only accept that if he has the trophy with him.
‘I think that’s the one thing I’d say that’s a lot different from 2018,’ Maguire said.
‘I played in 2018 and we got to the semi-final and I think a lot of the lads were happy.
‘We knew everyone would be patting us on the back. But I think now there’s a belief that we’ve got to win this tournament and that’s a good change in the mentality.
‘Of course, we know how tough it is going to be. I think there are probably five or six teams with the same belief. But in 2018, we probably weren’t one of those teams that had that belief. Now we are.’
In France they are worried about England. They are also concerned about the number of missing players in Didier Deschamps squad and the patchy form of players like Maguire’s United team-mate Raphael Varane.
To the neutral the French are favourites. They are the world champions and their supporting three of Mbappe, Griezmann and Ousmane Dembele have been in full flow in Qatar.
Phil Foden, Jude Bellingham and Bukayo Saka (pictured) pose a threat for opponents France
The English version of Phil Foden, Jude Bellingham and Bukayo Saka also carries a threat, though, and Southgate’s team have the better statistics. Twelve tournament goals compared to France’s nine and three clean sheets to their rivals’ none.
England have also shared their goals between eight players in this World Cup while France have only three.
All this adds up to England having a puncher’s chance at least. They have not played consistently well through this tournament but have shown themselves to be capable of devastating attacking play in quick bursts.
Against Iran in game one three goals came in the space of ten minutes. Against Wales and Senegal the damage was spread across only eighteen.
England have shared their goals between eight players with Marcus Rashford scoring three
France represent a step up in class from anyone England have played here thus far. Southgate’s team will have to find another gear.
But there is reason to suspect they do possess one and know where it is. The English public has been fed a diet of over-promising and under-achievement for too long. It is not really a surprise they continue to look at their national team with an eyebrow raised.
All patterns have to change at some stage though and England have their eyes locked on something special.
Can they really beat France and maybe Portugal and then Brazil over the course of the next nine days to lift this trophy? The answer will depend on who you ask.