The hopes of the anxious Irish now rest with Croatia

Croatia stand in the way of a place in the World Cup Final

With the population having already had the effects of prolonged good weather to contend with, anxiety levels in Ireland were further raised over the weekend as the English took another step closer to what would be an unexpected World Cup success story.

What seemed almost laughable to many just a week ago; the notion of Gareth Southgate’s players actually winning the thing and so suddenly transforming the British broadcast media, on which many Irish people are heavily reliant, into a no-go zone for a decade or more, is now potentially just two games away.

By themselves, Sweden proved hopelessly ill-equipped to halt a clearly superior team in Samara with England progressing to the semi-finals of the competition for the first time in 28 years thanks to goals from Harry Maguire and Dele Alli.

The hopes of those Irish anxious to see Southgate and his players stopped before it is too late (mainly, though not exclusively those in older age groups) now rest with Croatia then, if it comes to it, either Belgium or France.


Most would regard the ongoing Brexit negotiations as a workable example of how this might all pan out rather satisfactorily, with a hefty majority of relatively happy EU members combining to wear the English down and ultimately frustrate their ambitions.

Others (mainly, though not exclusively those younger age groups) have contended the Southgate’s general likeability, an improved style of play and the failure of the team’s fans to disgrace themselves in any way, should be enough to put an end to what might be regarded as widespread and deep rooted begrudgery. The begrudgers are having none of it.

In Samara on Saturday, there were barely any England fans to celebrate with, just 3,000 or so having obtained tickets through their FA and, at the very most, that many again sourcing them independently.

Back in England, there were reports of good natured drunkenness, kids dancing on bus shelters in several cities and, in Stratford, east London, of several fans evading security at a local branch of Ikea, where they danced on beds; all stuff that would, of course, be considered deeply endearing in Ireland if done by the Irish.

In the Samara Arena, meanwhile, there were not too many Swedes among the 39,991 strong crowd either, which made for a strange, slightly subdued atmosphere, one that was punctuated from time to time as the many more locals present broke out into chanting in support of their side, who ultimately exited the competition a few hours later in Moscow where they lost a penalty shootout with the Croats.

The hosts going out may help to facilitate a late surge of travelling support for England with tickets likely to be slightly less difficult to come by for the Moscow semi-final in which Southgate’s side will play on Wednesday . There was no particular sign of it by Sunday evening, however, with return flights from London to the Russian capital going out today and coming home after the final still easily available for under €500, something that suggests that while the country may be gripped by World Cup fever, there is a lingering fear among those normally inclined to travel still think the risks are too high despite all of the positive reports since the tournament began.

Southgate, meanwhile, slightly over-egged the youth and inexperience of his side in his post-match interviews but said that it was a privilege to find himself in the same category as Alf Ramsey and Bobby Robson, as one of only three England managers to have guided their teams to a World Cup semi-final.

He also paid tribute to one of his much more recent predecessors, Roy Hodgson, for his role in laying some of the foundations for the current success by handing some of the players opportunities to feature at Euro 2016 where, of course, the team went out to Iceland and the manager was widely castigated.

“They didn’t have big-match experience and under pressure they suffered,” Southgate said.

“I think Roy took a lot of criticism for that, but he was brave enough to put a lot of these young players in – and without that experience, we wouldn’t have had a day like today because they’ve learned from that.

“ But,” he also suggested, “we are a team who are still improving. We know where we are.”

That remark will, of course, cause further concern in Ireland while the claim by his opposite number, Janne Andersson, that his side had had "a bloody good World Cup" is possible the greatest affront by a Swede to this nation since one of their referees, Martin Hansson, missed the you know what by you know who nine years ago.

In the latest in a long series of patriotic acts, the others being mainly musical, John Delaney may ask for Ireland to be the fifth team in this week's semi-finals.

Well, things are getting a little desperate folks.