LOMAS ON RUSSIA: England’s youngsters can make history as the old guard flies home

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All supporters know what a cruel game football can be.

And we all know that by tea time today England fans could be in tears dreaming about what might have been.

But now and again this game can give you the most incredible highs – and this World Cup feels like it could be one of those.

I was four years old when England won the World Cup and cannot really remember much more than sitting watching a football match at my uncle’s with my dad.

But I was far too young to understand what was going on and I have long since resigned myself to never having the chance to experience it again.

Since then every four years (two if you count the Euros) it’s been the inevitable heartbreak of watching a bunch of superstar millionaires fail on the big stage.

There has been a myriad of reasons why that has happened – but in the end the painful truth is that we have never been good enough.

The ‘30 years of hurt’ from the Three Lions song has quickly and quietly turned in 52 years of hurt.

But the best World Cup I can ever remember watching has seen a massive sea change in fortunes - as football always does over a period of time.

The big boys of Germany, Brazil and Argentina are all flying home early with their tails between their legs. Farewell to the old guard and bring in the new.

We now have a wide open tournament that anyone could win.

The classy pair of France and Belgium must really fancy their chances now – but only one can progress as they face a ‘local derby’ semi-final showdown.

England know a win over a fairly ordinary but hard-working Sweden side, with a rigid 4-4-2 formation, would pit them into a midweek semi-final against Croatia or Russia, again both decent sides but not sides that have lit up the tournament with dazzling football.

So the route to a final that seemed an impossibility three weeks ago is now a very real possibility.

Gareth Southgate’s youngsters showed nerves of steel against Colombia when heads could have dropped after the late equaliser that took the game to extra-time and then penalties.

There have been no egos, no distracting sideshows and no visible fear from them.

No one expected of England for once - so they have been quietly going about their business and doing a sterling job.

Today could be about patience and trying to break the Swedes down.

If it goes all the way, then it goes all the way – the penalties hoodoo is broken and England have shown they can win that way if needed.

They are also owed a big slice of ‘Lady Luck’ as referees and VAR have given them very little so far.

The stillness and tranquility outside first thing this morning was the calm before the storm before pubs and clubs start to fill up and create a matchday atmosphere to savour.

We are watching history being made this week and I know that this chance for victory is unlikely to ever happen again in my lifetime.

The sun is shining, Three Lions is back in the charts, the stars have aligned, the cup is gleaming at the end of the road and England’s young but brilliant new crop of players could wipe away all those years of hurt this week.

Abba, Ikea, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Bjorn Borg – I hope your boys take one hell of a beating this afternoon!