THERE has been plenty of positivity surrounding the England squad since the start of the World Cup Finals, and much of it has been justified.
But there is a long way to go – and I’m not quite buying into the hype.
Indeed, for me, the jury is still very much out on Gareth Southgate and his players.
So far they have defeated Tunisia 2-1 and Panama 6-1, two of the weakest teams in the competition.
A win is a win, however, and all you can do is get the points required which secured qualification.
The 1-0 defeat to Belgium last Thursday evening meant England finished runners-up in Group G, with some suggesting that offers them an easier path towards the Final itself.
As much as England played well for large parts of the game, they didn’t create enough clear-cut opportunities.
Their best chance fell to Marcus Rashford – but he couldn’t score from 15 yards out.
If you are to be serious contenders, you need to take such chances when they are presented to you.
What also went against England was that the Belgians coped very well with their threat at set-pieces.
Sure, Southgate made changes, and the likes of Harry Kane remained on the bench. But they still had John Stones, Harry Maguire and Jamie Vardy on the park at various stages.
Big Thibaut Courtois in the opposition goal made all the correct decisions, and displayed authority, confidence and good hands to claim several high balls.
It meant the Belgians ended up victorious – and thank goodness there was a winner because I didn’t want to see the finishing spots decided by the count of yellow and red cards.
Going into the game, both England and Belgium were equal on points and goal difference, but England were granted top spot through their superior disciplinary record.
In the end, Group G was won by points to avoid a farce.
Unfortunately, the same couldn’t be said for Group H.
After Senegal and Japan finished on four points and the same goal difference, Akira Nishino and his players were awarded second spot for having fewer yellow cards than the Africans.
Honestly, for a World Cup knock-out place to be finalised by such means is simply disgraceful.
Whoever thought that one up shouldn’t be allowed to be anywhere near football, and should be given his P45 by FIFA.
I’m gobsmacked that the president of world football’s governing body, Gianni Infantino, rubber-stamped that idea.
Surely it would have been better if the outcome had been decided by shots on target, including hitting the woodwork.
Better to reward attacking football than a team just behaving itself.
To have such a decision left in the hands of various referees totally baffles me.
So it’s just your luck if you get a card-happy whistler, as there is no right of appeal against a yellow card.
That just doesn’t sit well with me, not in the slightest.
The rules meant that Japan will now play Belgium, and Group H winners, Colombia, will face England.
The Colombians have some very talented players and their coach, Jose Pekerman, is experienced and talented.
His players are also streetwise and that will help them on Tuesday evening in Moscow.
They will need to be patient and also defend well at set-pieces.
Kane will be back in England’s starting line-up, and he is a tremendous goal threat. His headed winner against Tunisia was executed perfectly.
But the Spurs striker also needs help, and can’t be relied upon to do it all on his own.
For him to have five goals from two games is quite phenomenal, and I’m pleased for him because I’m told he is a thoroughly decent fellow.
In this day and age, it’s always nice to see the good guys blossoming.
I’ll be interested to see who Southgate selects as the man to play closest to Kane.
Will it be Raheem Sterling, Dele Alli, Rashford or Vardy? They all have an abundance of talent and offer different things. It’s a key decision.
The first five minutes of the game will also give us a clear indication if England’s defeat to Belgium has caused them to lose a bit of momentum.
I don’t expect there will have, and that’s been helped by the fact there’s been a fair and measured reaction to it by the English media.
Much of that is down to the way Southgate has handled the press in the past few weeks.
He has been very good to them, and given them excellent access to players for interviews, filming and photographs.
But there will be nerves on such an important occasion. This is the stage of the competition when results matter more than performances.
If England win, they are in the last eight and then anything can happen.
Sure, they are in the frame to go all the way to the Final. That is for sure.
Put it this way. They have a better chance of winning the World Cup than the teams who are already knocked out and back home beside their families, watching it all on television.
However, every team has a chance.
There is not an outstanding favourite and that’s what makes it all the more intriguing and enjoyable.