England dreams of glory after last-gasp winner

Off the mark: Captain Harry Kane scored his first ever tournament goals for England. © Getty

What would happen if England won the World Cup? Overcome with relief and joy last night after a late winner against stubborn Tunisia, England fans are now dreaming of the ultimate prize.

For 65 tortuous minutes, it looked like so many games from this World Cup, and from England’s painful past.

After a blistering start, Harry Kane had given the Three Lions an early lead. Red shirts poured forward. England was carefree, bold and sharp.

Then disaster. Kyle Walker’s elbow connected with Tunisia’s Fakhreddine Ben Youssef’s face in the penalty area. “Accident”, screamed England fans; “penalty”, said the referee. Ferjani Sassi scored. England’s great start was rendered meaningless.

Suddenly, all the early confidence vanished. England laboured. A resolute, unambitious Tunisia retreated into a bunker deep inside its own half. England looked resigned to a desperate, disappointing draw until, in injury time, Kane nodded in the winner.

The country exploded in relief. Car horns blared. Drinks were thrown into the air. And a whole nation was left with one tantalising thought.

Imagine if England won the World Cup.

The statement is not as absurd as it might seem. The tournament so far has been defined by underwhelming performances from the favourites: Germany was on the end of a shock defeat to Mexico. Brazil and Argentina could only draw. France failed to convince.

The country would come to a complete standstill. Only a coronation would come close. People would be dancing in the fountains of Trafalgar Square. It is likely that a national holiday would be called. The only other England manager to win the World Cup, Alf Ramsey, was knighted. Surely Gareth Southgate would follow suit?

And its effects could last well beyond the subsequent dazed week.

When France won the World Cup in 1998 with a team full of players of foreign heritage, it was a transformative moment for a country that had been ill at ease with its high level of immigration.

Likewise, West Germany’s shock victory in 1954, just nine years after the end of the Second World War, was incredibly important in rebuilding the confidence of a nation struggling to emerge from its Nazi shadow.

Would winning the World Cup really change England?

Keep calm and Harry on

Absolutely, say some. It’s no exaggeration to say it would be the most celebrated day in the country’s recent history. Football, like it or not, touches more people than politics or the royal family. It would act as an incredible unifying force and would finally make English patriotism acceptable to everyone.

Sport is merely symbolic — it doesn’t change anything, reply others. England would be joyous for a few days, but soon everyone would return to the reality of life in modern Britain. It’s always tempting to weave sporting successes into national narratives; but they are merely coincidences. Life would carry on as normal.

You Decide

  1. Would anything really change if England won the World Cup?
  2. Is it absurd that England cares so much about football?

Activities

  1. Split into groups. Think of three historic sporting events that have made a tangible difference to a single country.
  2. Imagine England have won the World Cup. Write a 500-word newspaper article reporting on the 24 hours following the win.

Some People Say...

“You have to show up in the World Cup, and in the World Cup anything can happen.”

Lionel Messi

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
England beat Tunisia 2-1 in its first match of the 2018 World Cup. The teams were level until the very last minute when Harry Kane scored the winner. England is now very likely to qualify from its group, after which it will probably play either Poland or Colombia, then either Brazil or Germany. Bookmakers currently give England a 12/1 chance of winning the World Cup, which it has not done since 1966.
What do we not know?
Whether England really can go all the way. At the later stages of a major tournament, luck and chance play greater roles than at the beginning. It is also impossible to predict just how wild the country would go after a World Cup final victory.

Word Watch

Referee
Colombian referee Wilmar Roldan was on the receiving end of plenty of English anger, both for giving Tunisia’s penalty and for not giving several good appeals for penalties when Tunisian defenders wrestled English players to the ground as they were preparing to attack a corner.
Unambitious
Tunisia did not manage a single shot on target apart from its goal, continuing a trend in this World Cup of African teams playing very defensively. Nigeria, Egypt and Morocco all failed to score in their opening games of this World Cup.
Alf Ramsey
Ramsey managed England from 1963 until 1974 after a successful spell at Ipswich Town. He was eventually sacked after England surprisingly failed to qualify for the 1974 World Cup.
West Germany’s shock victory in 1954
The final victory came over the greatest team in the world — the great Hungary team of the early 1950s known as the “Magical Magyars”.

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