Belfast Telegraph

World Cup glory will be a step too far for England, predicts Jackie Fullerton

By Jackie Fullerton

Oh dear, I never thought I would say this but England will never have a better chance of getting to a World Cup Final.

Sweden await in the quarter-final tomorrow and then it will probably be Croatia in the semi-finals for Gareth Southgate's men.

With big hitters like Argentina, Spain, Portugal and Germany having already bitten the dust, it's only fair the English team and their media, in particular, can dream of glory.

Well, not the unbridled joy of WINNING the most coveted trophy in football because the other side of the draw has too much savvy and class for Southgate's battlers… Uruguay, France, favourites Brazil and Belgium - surely that gifted quartet will bring all of England hurtling back to earth with a resounding thud.

England deserved to beat a poor Colombia side who resorted to all of the dark arts in the 120 minutes. It was also nice to see England scrape through on penalties to get that particular monkey off their back.

I also owe apologies to men I doubted - like goalkeeper Jordan Pickford who made two fantastic saves. Sub Eric Dier had nerves of steel to slot in the winner. Like Dier, I also questioned Jordan Henderson at this level and he didn't deserve to miss his spot-kick. I felt for him because his work ethic and fitness level was second to none.

The full-back Kieran Trippier has had a brilliant tournament and his penalty against Colombia was a top corner finish, well done to him.

I was surprised that Dele Alli, who still appears to be a fitness concern, and Jesse Lingard were virtually anonymous, and while the back three performed well they were put under real pressure by a side who stifled the game.

There will also be questions raised about the 93rd minute equaliser from the corner. You wouldn't have given tuppence to Colombia during the game but in extra time they looked lifted by the goal and exposed England as nervy and vulnerable when pressure is put upon them - something to worry about as they go deeper into this tournament.

The English press are already writing off Sweden but their team progressed from a qualifying group that included Holland, they beat Italy in the play-off to get here and they hammered Mexico 3-0 before seeing off Switzerland in the round of 16.

They have no star names with Zlatan Ibrahimovic not involved but they are a solid 4-4-2 unit, not entertaining but they won't care about that because it's working for them. England beware or you may fall at the quarter-final hurdle!

Brazil are looking the favourites and I fancy they will beat Belgium. To be fair, Belgium's comeback against Japan revealed a lot about their character but I expect that top actor Neymar will win an Oscar in this game and guide the Samba Boys through.

Neymar's acting is disgraceful and he has no need to do it. He's the guy in this tournament with the most shots on target and the most assists so why does he have to resort to this childish nonsense? Hardly a role model for watching, enthusiastic youngsters.

Who thought Russia would reach this stage after beating Spain on penalties! What a sad way for the magnificent Iniesta to end his marvellous international career.

Croatia, with Luka Modric in inspired form, will have too much firepower for Russia and I fancy them to face England in the final four… should Gareth's men get there.

How do you call Uruguay v France? Uruguay have won four out of four and are as good as any side I've seen in the tournament. They have only conceded one goal but Edinson Cavani needs to be fit and firing for them.

France are hit and miss for me even though Kylian Mbappe is the heir to the throne which has been held over the years by Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. Mbappe will always give France a puncher's chance and N'Golo Kante has been the best player in that defensive midfield role.

If Cavani is fit and mobile I will go for Uruguay.

So my semi-final prediction is Brazil v Uruguay and Croatia v England.

If England get to the final Sir Richard Branson is organising flights to Mars and the Scots and Welsh will be queuing for those tickets. We'll all have to emigrate!

I worry about England's defence being put under pressure and the guile and experience of Croatia could be too much for them.

Whatever happens, Gareth Southgate has cemented his place as England manager. He's a young man who deserves success after his Euro 96 penalty miss.

He's been decisive too. Who would have dropped Wayne Rooney like he did? - But it had to be done as Wayne's legs had gone at this level.

As for England winning the World Cup I can't see that at all, but after everything that has happened in the tournament you might say stranger things have happened.

At least it will shut them up about 1966!

Okay, they scored six goals against Panama but I could pick a team from the Ballymena Saturday Morning League to beat Panama!

I'll give them credit for beating Colombia but I don't think they have the quality to bring the trophy home.

Belfast Telegraph

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