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We plot England's route to potential World Cup glory in Russia
We plot England's route to potential World Cup glory in Russia

The car flags are on, the musty old shirts are in the wash, and the playlist is getting a hammering with the World Cup 2018 just around the corner.

The stars of Brazil are 9/2 favourites, with Germany - who "know how to get the job done" - trailing narrowly behind at 5/1.

An air of slight optimism surrounds Gareth Southgate's young England side but, as ever, there is little genuine belief that they can go all the way - which is a touch surprising considering England are 16/1 shots and better-fancied than 25 other nations.

A £10 stake on the Three Lions winning the tournament returns £170, and Sky Bet are offering punters money back (up to £10) as a free bet if/when the team you back outright is knocked out in Russia.

It may seem ridiculous to suggest, but it's not an outrageous statement to say that England have some modicum of chance this summer.

Here Tom Carnduff looks at England's group stage opponents and works out their most likely route to the final and potential World Cup glory.

And then Chris Hammer finds an 'easier feasible route' that he believes is England's only way to end their long wait to lift the trophy once more.

Route A: England's 'most likely' journey

Group G opponents

Tunisia

5/6 to finish third in Group G

Tunisia are England's first opponents in Russia
Tunisia are England's first opponents in Russia

England kick-off their World Cup campaign against Tunisia at the Volgograd Arena on June 18 looking to extend their unbeaten run to 10 games, whilst ideally aiming to add a seventh win.

The Tunisians are 9/2 shots to progress out of the group, but victory for England in their opening encounter would severely damage the African nation's chances of advancing.

Southgate's side are 4/11 favourites to win the game and should do so without too much difficulty.

You'd also expect Belgium to beat Tunisia and Panama, so England need to ensure that they match those results going into the final game.

Panama

1/2 favourites to finish bottom of Group G

Panama are the outsiders in Group G
Panama are the outsiders in Group G

The Three Lions will then make the 615-mile trip north to face outsiders Panama, where victory is the minimum expectation.

At 2/9 to win, it will come as no surprise if England pick up all three points and this should also be an opportunity to boost their goal difference.

There is always potential for a banana skin, much like the Algeria game in 2010, but we should see the team in white happy at the end of this one.

Belgium

8/11 favourites to win Group G

Belgium: Europe's first qualifiers for the 2018 World Cup
Belgium: Europe's first qualifiers for the 2018 World Cup

The final game is the clash of Group G's two titans, with England meeting Roberto Martinez's Belgium in Kaliningrad.

Based on the odds, Belgium are expected to win the group and beat England at the end of June, Sky Bet make them 11/8 to claim victory.

The Red Devils' squad is obviously full of quality, with a number of Premier League stars on show.

GROUP VERDICT

That's why they are fancied to pip England to top spot and condemn the Three Lions to a Round of 16 tie against the winner of Group H.

Last 16 opponent: Colombia

11/8 favourites to win Group H

Radamel Falcao
England could face Radamel Falcao and Colombia in the Round of 16

Colombia are expected to emerge victorious from what appears to be an open Group H, which would set up a clash with England.

Jose Pekerman's outfit are 40/1 to lift the trophy in Russia, but could be eliminated at the first knock-out stage.

They are 13/8 to be sent home at this point in the competition, highlighting how they are expected to fall at the second hurdle.

Victory here would start to kick in belief that maybe, just maybe, England could go all the way.

Although there would be some concerns when the quarter-final opponent is confirmed...

Quarter-final opponent: Germany

England are 8/11 to reach the quarter-finals

Thomas Muller and Germany celebrate after scoring against Spain
Thomas Muller and Germany could await the Three Lions in the quarter-final

That's because, in all probability, awaiting them in the next round would be Germany, a side that England have typically struggled against at past tournaments.

They were most recently eliminated by Die Mannschaft back in 2010, where Frank Lampard's 'goal' was not given despite clearly crossing the line. That is something that still sticks in the mind of England supporters.

It won't be an easy task, and England to be sent home by Germany at this stage is available at 8/1 if you fancy the dream to end here.

However, Germany are in shaky form at the moment. They've lost their last two and are without a win in five. Their squad selection has also raised a few eyebrows, Manchester City's Leroy Sane the most obvious omission.

That'll give England hope, and if they do progress at this point you may as well start playing Vindaloo on repeat.

Semi-final opponent: Spain

England are 11/4 to reach the semi-finals

Spain life the World Cup in 2010
Spain lift the World Cup in 2010

And if getting past the 2014 World Cup winners wasn't hard enough, the 2010 victors may well await in the semi-finals.

Spain could be next up for Southgate's side, and you'd expect it to be a game where England might see little of the ball. All that matters here though is the result, regardless of how you get it.

In any tournament, the semi-final stage is anyone's for the taking and that will play into England's hands.

We've made it this far, who says we can't go further?

I'm looking at Harry Kane to strike twice in a 2-1 win in extra-time...

Final opponent: Brazil

40/1 on England & Brazil to meet in the World Cup final

Neymar celebrates after scoring for Brazil at Anfield
England and Brazil in the World Cup final?

Here we go then, this is it.

Moscow, July 15, England walk out at the Luzhniki Stadium in front of a capacity 81,000 crowd.

The Verde-Amarela are the 9/2 favourites for the trophy, and it's not hard to see why when you look at their 23-man squad.

The stars of Neymar, Jesus and Firmino lead the line whilst the midfield possesses the likes of Coutinho, Willian and Fred.

It'll be a huge ask for England to reach this stage, let alone win it, but as we know anything can happen in 90 minutes of football.

There could also be a couple of goals in this one, and if you fancy Jesse Lingard to be amongst those goals you can get England to win the World Cup and Lingard to score a hat-trick in the final at 1500/1...

For the equally optimistic/deluded, Phil Jones to score the last goal in the World Cup final is priced at 400/1, if you think the Three Lions will pounce from a corner.

No more years of hurt, no more need for dreaming.

Route B: England's 'easier yet still feasible' journey

The irony of this exercise is that the more 'likely' route for England to win the World Cup also needs three big leaps of faiths.

My alternative route is clearly much easier but would also be deemed more unlikely because I need no shortage of shocks elsewhere for all the pieces to fall into place.

I've already analysed in a previous article (click here to read) why we can expect curveballs at this World Cup like many others in the past so I don't think anything below is beyond the realms of possibility. And to be honest, it needs to happen if England are to get their hands on the World Cup trophy.

Group Verdict: Runners-up

I'm going with England to finish runners-up behind Belgium but only on goal difference as I feel the likes of Lukaku, Hazard and De Bruyne will have more of a field day with Tunisia and Panama. But that detail is pretty much irrelevant.

The key for me is not to win the group. If they do, then I can't see how they will avoid Brazil in the quarter-finals.

Last 16 opponent: Poland

I don't think England fans should be particularly bothered about who the Three Lions face in the next round - Poland and Colombia are likely to finish in the top two and it's hard to say one is particularly tougher than the other and they're equally winnable in my view.

Quarter-final opponent: Sweden/Serbia

This is where you may stop reading but bare with me. Sweden will top Group F in my predictor ahead of Germany, who are a little out of sorts later and may take a while to hit full stride if indeed they do. The Swedes then meet Serbia, who finished runners-up behind Brazil, and either opponent will be warmly received by England at this stage of a World Cup.

Semi-final opponent: Portugal/Argentina

Portugal win Group B ahead of Spain then come up against Group A runners-up Egypt, which they win. This sets up a quarter-final with Argentina who won Group D before seeing disappointing Group C runners-up France. Essentially I'm trying to avoid England coming up against Spain, which would happen if the 2010 champions top Group B.

Final opponent: Belgium!

33/1 on England & Belgium to meet in the World Cup final

Belgium, as we know, topped Group G, and then knocked out either Poland or Colombia. As luck would have it, they didn't actually go on to meet Brazil in the quarter-finals. They faced a Germany side who were good enough on the day to derail the favourites and then them crashing out of the tournament for the second time in a row. Albeit not scoring eight goals in the process.

There's not much to choose between Belgium and Germany in terms of quality and on the day Roberto Martinez's side are certainly strong enough individually and collectively to cause a surprise.

Next up for the Red Devils (who I've backed to reach the final in another article here) was a gruelling encounter with Spain but the country's Golden Generation managed to pull off the greatest results in their history.

Why would England win the final?

Well, Belgium will be mentally and physically drained after such a hard-fought route to the final whereas you'd think the Three Lions should be slightly fresher if all this plays out to plan. And on the day, anything can happen. Keep the faith.


Related World Cup links

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