England secured their place in the knockout stage of the World Cup thanks to Tuesday’s 3-0 victory over Wales.
Gareth Southgate’s men progressed as Group B winners after a second-half brace from Marcus Rashford either side of a goal from Phil Foden, with both men thoroughly justifying their inclusions.
A resounding 6-2 win over Iran in the tournament opener was followed by a dour 0-0 draw against the United States, but an authoritative showing at the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium has the Three Lions roaring into the knockout rounds.
Once a place in the last 16 is inked onto everyone’s wallchart, it’s time to dream a little. Here’s what England’s route to the final could look like.
Round of 16: England vs. Senegal
Despite losing star man Sadio Mane to injury prior to the tournament and losing their first game to the Netherlands, Senegal progressed as Group A runners-up thanks to a dramatic 2-1 win over Ecuador on their final matchday.
Their South American opponents only needed a draw and, when Moises Caicedo cancelled out Ismaila Sarr’s penalty midway through the second half, that looked to be on the cards.
But Chelsea centre-back Kalidou Koulibaly ventured forward to claim a vital winner and confirm Senegal’s place in the next round — a point of continental pride after no African nation made it out of the groups at Russia 2018.
England and Senegal almost met at the same stage of the 2002 World Cup, only for Sweden to pip Sven-Goran Eriksson’s side to top spot in the group on goal difference. The upshot was Sweden losing to Senegal in extra-time, while England overcame Denmark 3-0.
Quarter-finals: England vs. France
Ever since the draw was made, this round has been circled by many England fans as a sink-or-swim moment. If Southgate’s men are to improve upon their semi-final run at the 2018 World Cup and runners-up finish at Euro 2020, it has always been likely they will have to come through a heavyweight nation in the quarter-finals.
Holders France booked qualification from Group D with a game to spare and going through in top spot landed them in England’s side of the draw.
Didier Deschamps’ side have been hit by injuries to the likes of Paul Pogba, N’Golo Kante and Karim Benzema. This has merely shown off the country’s enviable depth of talent, albeit not that deep after nine changes led to a lacklustre 1-0 loss to Tunisia in their final group game.
Kylian Mbappe looked in ominous form as he followed up a goal in the opening 4-1 win over Australia with a decisive brace as Les Bleus’ Nations League tormentors Denmark were beaten 2-1.
Semi-finals: England vs. Spain or Portugal
Portugal are more or less home and hosed as Group H winners and Fernando Santos’ side would be expected to get past whoever finishes as runners-up in Group F. They could meet England in the semis.
The nations shared a couple of terse battles across Euro 2004 and the 2006 World Cup, with the Selecao prevailing on penalties each time. The only survivor on either side from those games? A certain Cristiano Ronaldo.
Spain have not won a World Cup knockout game since lifting the trophy in 2010. If they do that against Morocco, after a surprise slump to second in Group E arguably gave them a more favourable route, then an Iberian derby in the quarterfinals is likely.
Luis Enrique’s team have not won since their brutal opening 7-0 victory against Costa Rica. Still, there is a typically lovely balance to their midfield play and Alvaro Morata, with three in three, has hit some timely goalscoring form.
Final: England vs. Brazil or Argentina
Brazil have looked the most complete team in the tournament so far and easily look the strongest of those likely to end up on the other side of the draw to England.
Tite’s men are aiming for their sixth title and a first since 2002, when they beat England in the quarter-finals. To the delight of neutrals everywhere, a semifinal showdown with bitter rivals Argentina could be on the cards.
Lionel Messi and his teammates were stunned 2-1 by Saudi Arabia in their opener before the main man inspired a nervy 2-0 win over Mexico. Alexis MacAllister and Julian Alvarez got the goals as Argentina turned in their best performance of the tournament to beat a tepid Poland and top Group C.