Jack Averty: Let’s make the game beautiful once more
In just eight fateful days England’s World Cup campaign gets underway against Tunisia.
It is perhaps a country better known for its food than its footballing prowess, but you can’t help but be sceptical about England’s chances.
You only have to look back at our humiliating exit from Euro 2016 at the hands of Iceland – a country that has less people than there are Welsh speakers in the world – to understand why perhaps we’re not underestimating Tunisia, or footballing giants Panama for that matter.
But being sceptical doesn’t stop us dreaming once the first ball is kicked.
This tournament, unlike all the others that have come before it since 1966 glory, could be the one.
We have a young and exciting manager who, having represented his country 57 times, knows what it means to pull on the famous Three Lions shirt.
We have some genuinely world-class players in the likes of Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling who on their day could blow teams away.
And of course we are England, the mighty England, the creators of football.
But, even without the team having kicked a ball, we know exactly how this World Cup campaign will go. . .
It will start out strongly, seeing off Tunisia 2-0 with a goal in either half. It will be a composed performance and one that will have people flocking to social media to big up Tunisia’s credentials, even if they have only ever won one match in World Cup history.
While England have brushed aside Tunisia, Germany have laboured to a draw against Mexico and Brazil will have suffered a shock defeat to a Granit Xhaka-inspired Switzerland.
Suddenly the nation’s hopes of a 1966 repeat will have risen from a zero to a three. Perhaps Dad will even drop a text saying this is the best England team he has seen in years and even the missus may manage to watch five minutes of a game before storming off.
Brazil and Germany of course will bounce back in their next games, but England will look even more assured when they thrash Panama – a team that has never even competed in the World Cup before – 4-0.
Expectation level for World Cup glory now? A solid six.
Of course England’s real test will come against Belgium’s team of superstars. A win would push fans’ excitement levels through the roof so England, true to form, will labour to a 0-0 draw.
Eden Hazard will no doubt get injured in the warm-up and England scrape to a draw despite not having a kick all game.
That inevitable performance, taking place on June 28, should prove to us that we’re nowhere near good enough to progress to any meaningful stage in the tournament.
Alas, as fans, that’s not what we will see. What we will see is a team that is unbeaten, securing seven points, topping the group and off to the last 16.
And what will the prize be for winning the group? A favourable tie against Group H runners-up Poland.
All of a sudden us England fans will be diving into our desk drawers to pull out the souvenir wall chart and furiously map out the Three Lions’ route to the final.
We’ll beat Poland, obviously, then we will need to play the game of our lives to see off Brazil on penalties in the quarters before breezing past a fractured France squad in the semis.
The final will probably draw up a mouth-watering tie against England’s arch enemies Argentina.
You can picture the South American side being the best team in the tournament, with Lionel Messi cutting through teams like a knife through hot butter.
But the Argentinians are notorious bottlers when it comes to finals, and England will capitalise gloriously winning 2-1, thanks to a Jamie Vardy double off the bench – who will celebrate by lifting up Raheem Sterling’s right leg, featuring the infamous M16 tattoo, and firing it like a gun.
But, unfortunately, reality has to set in at some stage. We’ll all come back down to earth in the 88th minute in Rostov when England are 2-0 down against Poland.
Profilic Eastern-European hitman Robert Lewandowski will have scored twice and Dele Alli sent off for losing his cool.
Fans will be left screaming at the TV, crying into their wall charts and wondering where it all went wrong as the missus packs her bags upstairs saying she can’t be with a man who gets this upset over a game of football.
And at that moment we’ll remember exactly what we realised last tournament – it’s the hope that kills you.