David Preece: World Cup can be start of something good for Gareth Southgate and England

SAFC coverage in association with John Hogg Fwd: Hogg
SAFC coverage in association with John Hogg Fwd: Hogg
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World Cup fever has crept up on me.

International apathy has been replaced by mild optimism and now I’m sitting in front of my TV with St George’s flag painted on my face, singing along to “Vindaloo” and throwing my patio furniture at anyone who walks past my home.

Not quite, but I’m looking forward to this World Cup more than I have in some time. Of course, none will ever compare to your first World Cup.

It’s like the first hit of a drug (I assume), or your first love. There may be better but never one so special.

To be brutally honest with you, as much as I want England to do well, it’s pretty much immaterial.

I’ve taken part in so many World Cup previews that I’ve built up an emotional attachment to a few sides.

Always the outsider, I’ve taken a real shine to Senegal and will probably be as devastated when they go out as I will be when the inevitable happens to England. And I’m absolutely comfortable with that.

Forever the underdog’s champion, I love the world’s superpowers being humbled.

The difference between now and previous tournaments is the disparity between the players of each nation, big or small, is closer now than it’s ever been.

In a world where Costa Rica’s keeper has just pulled off a Champions League winning treble, there are no minnows.

Sure, there’ll be freak results, but when a team like Brazil gets turfed 7-1 in their own back yard, it probably made the El Salvador team of 1982 feel much better about their 10-1 defeat by Hungary.

This is what the World Cup is about though and that’s why I’m all for expanding it beyond the 32 teams of today.

More teams, more football and, as rare as it can be with today’s wall-to-wall coverage, more players you have never heard of becoming household names.

I’d never heard of Emile Mbouh before Italia 1990 and now, 28 years later, his name is etched on to my mind and that’s exactly what I want from Russia 2018 – the same memories from this tournament as I have from Mexico ’86.

On paper, Russia are rubbish, but I hope they are carried along on a wave of nationalistic optimism and fervour.

The ghost of Lev Yashin looms large over this tournament. With the image of the outstretched body of the “Black Spider” everywhere, the pressure is on Russian keeper Igor Akinfeev to produce.

Having buckled under the pressure in previous tournaments, it doesn’t bode well for him.

But, from one goalkeeper to another, I sincerely hope he can break out of the shadows of his legendary predecessor and become the hero his country craves.

Rather than being an English partisan, having a few teams to look out for makes the tournament all the more enjoyable.

I’m sure there’ll be someone out there who has voted for Brexit will castigate me for having such a cosmopolitan attitude to the World Cup, telling me I’m exactly what’s wrong with Ingerland, but I’ll take that on the chin.

I’d much rather be a man of the world than regress to parochial attitudes of the past.

Obviously there’s Denmark, my third home after Scotland and the team of my ex-team-mate, Christian Eriksen.

I will always have a soft spot for them. Then there’s Iceland, a country I spent a couple of months in and where I made many friends.

I also have three former team-mates in their squad, in Emil Hallfredsson, Arnor Ingvi Traustason and Samuel Fridjonsson.

I actually played in the game where Sammy Fridjonsson made his debut for Keflavik again Valur.

As debuts go, it was pretty impressive for a 16-year-old. He played brilliantly before being sent off in iffy circumstances.

After slicing a ball out for a throw-in, he swore at himself for making a mistake and the referee thought he was talking to him and proceeded to show him a red card. I think he’s recovered from that though.

Then there’s Costa Rica, the team of my ex-Odense team-mate, Christian Bolanos.

He’s a mercurial player who spent much of his time at Odense sat next to me on the bench.

We got on surprisingly well seeing as he didn’t speak much English or Danish and my Spanish doesn’t go either than ordering two beers.

I loved him because, no matter what I said, he just laughed at me as if I was mad.

I suppose, if someone was continuing to try to tell you jokes in a language you didn’t understand for a whole year, he could have had a point.

That said, I got in touch with him for a ticket to England’s game against Costa Rica at Elland Road last week and he blanked me, so maybe I’ll scratch them off my list.

So what of England? Well, for the first time, expectation has been replaced by a genuine will for them to do well.

The pre-tournament press calls have, for the first time, been refreshingly opening and surprisingly warming.

And 18 months ago, I never thought I’d expect myself to be thinking that the then beige and seemingly soft choice of appointing Gareth Southgate would be a real reason for optimism.

Not only is this squad and coaching staff as likeable as I can remember, but, whatever happens, for once there is life beyond this tournament’s exit.

It feels like the start of something, as if we’re on the right path and there is a clear vision of where we want to go.

So, regardless of what happens and how we play, continuing recent methods is essential for the future of English football.

I guess what I’m saying here is that my enjoyment doesn’t depend on whether England do well or not. But I sincerely hope they do.