Neville believes England should be optimistic about their World Cup chances
Gary Neville has issued a passionate plea for the nation to be swept up in optimism as England head into the World Cup knockout stages.
Adnan Januzaj’s second-half goal condemned Gareth Southgate’s side to defeat in their final Group G match, meaning they finished behind Belgium in the group and will now face Colombia in the last 16 on Tuesday.
Victory over Colombia will see England face either Sweden or Switzerland in a potential quarter-final tie and Neville believes they have a once-in-a-generation chance to reach the World Cup semi-finals:
“What an opportunity for those players,” he said.
“What an opportunity for Gareth Southgate to sweep a nation with him. The positivity should be bigger after the Belgium game.
“Getting to a quarter-final would be a really good achievement, if we got to a semi-final it would be an incredible achievement.
“I think there is that opportunity to get to a semi-final, not because I think they’re going to beat Colombia and then Sweden or Switzerland, they could lose any of those matches. However, for the first time I think England have a run in a World Cup that is similar to the one in 1990 where they played Cameroon and Belgium.
“If England were playing Argentina in the last 16 and Brazil in the quarter-finals, I’d say it’d be very difficult and we’re likely to be going home. But, there is a real chance.
“I always thought England would overachieve in one tournament and the expectation was low coming into this one. Why can’t we do what Wales did in Euro 2016 or what Greece did when they won the tournament?
“England might be coming home on Tuesday night but we’ve got a real chance here to get to a semi-final and we should be positive about that.”
Much of the debate following England’s defeat against Belgium centred around Southgate’s decision to rest key players, including captain Harry Kane, and whether it will turn out to be an unnecessary risk or a masterstroke.
Neville has been left bemused by the fallout, citing the importance of resting England’s key players ahead of a potential run of two or three games in a short period.
He said: “I don’t get all this fuss and furore around not pick or choosing your opponents – why can’t you be confident about the prospect of beating Colombia? Of course they could beat us but is that what we should be focusing on? We should be focusing on going as far as we can, that’s what every England fan would want.
“People will say it’ll all blow up in Southgate’s face if we lost against Colombia but it’d have been the same if we lost to Japan. This idea about applying pressure about how you go out of a tournament is nonsense to me.
“If England want to get to the latter stages of a tournament, which would be real success, it obviously makes sense to avoid the bigger nations.
“I played in many tournaments where we played Argentina, Portugal, Brazil and Germany – they had world-class players. We basically fell out of the competition, so we wouldn’t we want to stay clear of them? I don’t think we should be embarrassed about avoiding great footballing nations until as late in the tournament as possible.
“However, we need to accept that we have a huge task ahead of us to beat Colombia – it will be difficult, but this furore that has been created about Southgate making changes is nonsense.”