Wembley Stadium – USA v England by Nicholas Babaian is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

Isn’t it refreshing going into a tournament with next to no expectation?

It makes a nice change from the tabloids stuffing patriotism and false optimism down our throats about how this is Englands chance, only to destroy them word by word as each match goes by. They have taken pot shots at Raheem Sterling over his choice of tattoos in the build-up to the tournament, but then again Raheem is always their choice of target so it’s quickly been brushed aside.

Instead England appear to have a happy camp, Southgate has done very well to cool expectations after past failings, and for the most part the players have said all the right things. This actually looks like a group of players who enjoy each others company, and are actually excited about this years tournament.

Which is actually a positive, Southgate said “We hope we can send people to work the following day having enjoyed our matches.”

What a simple, but poignant, statement that is. When was the last time we were able to talk about a game the following day with a sense of pride?

How often has the post-match conversation been maligned by negativity?

Even when we’ve won in recent years it hasn’t been comfortable enough for us to say “I really enjoyed that,” supporting England has been more of an endurance than entertainment.

It shows our lack of achievement when our last knockout victory was 12 years ago, as we narrowly scraped past Ecuador with a Beckham free-kick, not a classic free-kick either, a cross that somehow managed to sneak through in an otherwise lacklustre encounter, before being eliminated on penalties by Portugal in the Quarter Finals in another uninspiring performance.

Here was the tournament where we finally lost our love of the country. Move forward quickly through the next 10 years, Euro 2008 didn’t qualify, World Cup 2010 a poor group stage followed by a German blitz in the last 16, Euro 2012 limped out on pens, World Cup 2014 only claimed a point and finished bottom of the group, Euro 2016 best not to talk about it.

Every team has looked stemmed by fear of expectation, and has failed to perform. Some of these sides have contained some spectacular players, players who have won trophies consistently throughout their career, Gerrard, Lampard, Rooney, Beckham, Ferdinand, Terry, Cole, Scholes, Seaman, the list goes on. Yet England have not made it beyond the last 8 since Euro 96.

So it’s easy to see where the optimism has been lost going into this tournament, and actually that should be seen as a good thing. The last two campaigns have been by far the worst in recent memory, it would be hard to argue which was worse, reaching the knockout stages finishing second in a weak group, only to be knocked out by Iceland is arguably worse than going out at the group stage in a pool with Uruguay and Italy.

So what do we deem as successful in this tournament?

For a start, actually playing football would be a good base. Scoring some goals, and giving the fans something to cheer for. Narrowly scraping through with a draw or a tight victory in the final group game has been a hallmark of England in tournaments, and every time it gets there we have our hearts in our mouths waiting for them to blow it.

The best options in this current 23 are the strength available in attacking positions, in league goals alone Kane and Sterling have close to 50 Premier League goals this season, we carry a threat going forward. We just need to make sure the ball gets there. Play with a bravery and freedom like in Euro 2004 when we really gave it a go.

There is no expectation so they are free to take the shackles off. You only have to look at Argentinas squad to see that sometimes attack will be the best form of defence.

I think Gareth has said it right, the tournament has been a success if for the first time in 14 years England fans can go to work the next day with praise for their nation. To be able to talk about a moment like Owen V Argentina in 1998, Beckhams redemption in 2002, the emergence of Wayne Rooney in 2004.

What can 2018 bring?

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