With every upset in this World Cup it gets easier and easier to talk yourself into England being favorites to reach a World Cup final for the first time since 1966 or even the whole thing. With a matchup against Colombia (No. 10 according to Elo), followed by either Switzerland or Sweden, and then either Russia or Croatia, some see a clear path to the final match.
But before we anoint England as champion, or even quarterfinalists for that matter, a look at its performance following the group stages serves as a reminder of the lack of quality opponents they’ve faced to this point.
In the group stage, England had the highest percentage of shots from inside the six-yard box of any team. Generally that’s a sign of a team getting into great positions for dangerous opportunities. But, for all their chances inside the six-yard box, only one came against their toughest opponent, Belgium. Even England’s 13.3 shots per game, eighth best in the group stage, is skewed by piling up 18 shots against Tunisia. They managed 11 against Belgium.
England’s eight goals in the group stage tied for second most of any team in the World Cup. Only two of them came from the run of play though. England scored four goals from set pieces and two on penalties. As they face higher quality opposition, set piece chances will be fewer and farther between. Colombia, for example, with centerbacks Yerry Mina of Barcelona and Davinson Sanchez of Tottenham, will be tougher against set pieces by far than Tunisia and Panama were, and will even provide threats on the attacking end.
A quick look at England’s heat maps from their three games shows how England like to attack, and why they had so much success against Tunisia and Panama. Against those teams England had lots of touches in the middle of the field and near the goal. Then, against Belgium, those touches vanish, and with that, England’s chance creation dwindles.
England struggled against Belgium when they weren’t able to get the ball into the middle in advanced positions. If Colombia can keep up its defensive form from the group stage, England could very well struggle to create chances in this game as well.
To add to England’s potential misery, Colombia got a boost to their attack Tuesday, with multiple reports that star James Rodriguez looks set to play after having to sub off early against Senegal. Though Colombia are dangerous without Rodriguez, having their star available would be a huge boost, as the Bayern Munich man was involved in 48 percent of Colombia’s goals in qualifying, and added two assists in just 152 minutes so far in Russia.
Things seem to be riding high for England with every bounce going their way while they sit and watch other top teams tumble out of the tournament. Tuesday, they’ll have to step on the pitch and face a dangerous Colombia team that many are overlooking, but if England makes that mistake, it will face an early trip home from Russia and again let down a nation that is just again beginning to believe in its national team.
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