As an Englishman there are certain inescapable truths about my life. I drink tea. I loathe winter and yearn for summer but moan that it’s too hot. I also know in my heart that when England end up in a penalty shootout at a World Cup, we’ll lose.
Except for the other night when, in what can only be described as a miracle, England beat Colombia 4-3 on penalties. If that wasn’t shocking enough, this happened on ITV, a channel that has traditionally seen England lose far more often than win. As losing penalty shootouts has previously been a raw fact of existence, as constant as say, the Laws of Thermodynamics, this has rocked England to the core. To have won is to force a reassessment of everything I considered true about football, World Cups and England.
We are perennial failures at football, despite inventing the sport. 1966 and all that was 52 years ago, not even a memory to many. Now though, as we build up to a quarter-final against Sweden later on today, I am confronted with the possibility of a first World Cup semi final appearance since 1990 – 28 years ago (and 22 years since we reached the semis of Euro 96). From there, all things are possible, even though from an England fan’s perspective, even though they shouldn’t be. Do I dare to actually believe?