Joe Davis column: How Three Lions kick-started this World Cup
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It took an England masterclass for us to start talking about the football.
Never has a World Cup been so steeped in controversy that the football felt secondary.
Nostalgia, hope and excitement are the emotions we usually associate with the biggest and most competitive tournament in the global game, but instead the headlines have centred on bribery, sportswashing, LGBTQ+ issues, the abhorrent treatment of migrant workers and the comical U-turn on alcohol sales just days before the first game.
The negativity has been all-consuming and I think we could all be pardoned for our lack of gusto going into the event. That was, of course, until England opened Group B with an almighty bang.
Gareth Southgate’s men produced a ruthless performance, destroying Iran 6-2 and bringing back the hope we all felt – and clung to – throughout that magical Euro 2020 run.
“Southgate you’re the one” vibrated Doha's Khalifa International Stadium after the game, jubilantly sung by a few thousand Englishmen and women, and at that moment we could start talking about the football for what felt like the first time.
The noise over wearing the rainbow armbands, the tournament being played in the middle of a domestic season and why Qatar was even chosen in the first place could be put on mute while we clapped, cheered and joked about how good Harry Maguire is in an England shirt.
We could gush over Jude Bellingham’s magnificent performance and question how, at just 19 years of age, the teenager is able to make the game look so straightforward on the biggest stage.
We could talk about Bukayo Saka, another World Cup debutant, who opened his account with a perfectly executed volley after Bellingham’s record-breaking header.
We could talk about Marcus Rashford scoring for the first time at an international tournament, Raheem Sterling looking more like his old self and Callum Wilson unselfishly teeing up Jack Grealish.
Tech malfunctions meant that hundreds of England fans were unable to access their tickets on the FIFA app but there was no way that was going to dampen the mood at home. There were too many positive things to chew over.
But as is the case in any tournament, the next game is just around the corner, so the talking point immediately switches to tonight’s opponents, USA.
Kick-off is at 7pm so unlike on Monday, when we were all stuck at work pretending to be busy but secretly watching Maguire rise like a salmon on our phones, we can roar the Three Lions on in a more appropriate setting.
If, like I, you’re into your stats, you might find comfort in the fact the US haven’t beaten a European nation at a World Cup finals since a 3-2 victory over Portugal in 2002. It’s history they could have rewritten had they held out to beat Wales in their opening fixture.
Gareth Bale’s late penalty secured a point after Tim Weah, son of the legendary George, netted the Americans’ goal and it will be he who Maguire and co need to suppress if England are to collect another three points.
This evening, Southgate will be hoping his side can replicate the effervescent display that tore Iran to shreds, while I just hope the spotlight remains on the pitch, rather than the long list of issues off it.