NIZHNY NOVGOROD – Never shy of indulging in a bit of sensationalism, the English media greeted the national side’s record World Cup win with a euphoria every bit as intense as the venom unleashed following regular flops by the now-transformed ‘Three Lions’.
“We believe in miracles… you sexy things,” The Sun declared, paying homage to a Hot Chocolate hit from the 1970s, on its front page over an image of players celebrating Sunday’s 6-1 win over Panama, England’s biggest ever at a World Cup.
Having mustered just one point and two goals in their disastrous 2014 World Cup campaign, England are flying in Russia, already into the Round of 16 with two wins out of two, eight goals, and the tournament’s top scorer in Harry Kane.
That has transformed expectations.
Former England midfielder and new Derby manager Frank Lampard, a mainstay of the ‘golden generation’ of big-name under-performers, said Gareth Southgate’s team could now lift the trophy.
“I don’t see why we would be negative enough to just start going, ‘Oh, I hope we get to the quarter-finals’,” he told the BBC.
“This is not getting ahead of myself, just look at the talent in our squad and in the team and the way they’re playing, and why should we write ourselves off?”
Other newspapers were packed with pictures of the England team flying back to their base cradling hat-trick man Kane’s match ball and fans back home leaping for joy and spraying themselves with beer as the goals went in.
“Russia is often accused of fiddling with the news, but this really happened,” said Daily Telegraph sports writer Paul Hayward, in a nod to this year’s political tensions between Russia and the West, especially the United Kingdom.
“Here in a city where the Soviet Union exiled dissidents, England were escaping a suffocating past. It was only Panama, a team of penalty-box wrestlers who were extraordinarily bad, but still…”
Amid the joy, some England fans warned against getting too carried away after victories over Panama — ranked 55th in the world — and lowly Tunisia in the opening game.
Sterner tests will undoubtedly come, not least against Belgium in England’s final group game on Thursday, but for most, it was time to just enjoy the moment.
“Sorry to disappoint those who are advising caution but I’m only too happy to get carried away,” wrote former England and current Stoke City striker Peter Crouch in a column for the Daily Mail.
“It has been too long since we had a national team that got us off our seats and allowed us to get behind them. This one is giving us all the right signs. Let’s not keep a lid on those feelings.”