England will have to lift a 20-year curse of the best group-stage teams to win the World Cup.
Gareth Southgate’s team progressed to the last 16 with the best record from the group stage. They secured seven points from their three group games with a goal difference of plus-seven, which was better than any other nation in Qatar. This was then followed up by a comprehensive 3-0 last-16 win over Senegal.
But recent history suggests the team that performs best in the group stage rarely goes on to win the World Cup, with Brazil the last side to do so in 2002.
Brazil topped their group with nine points and a goal difference of plus-eight at the World Cup in Korea and Japan before going on to lift the trophy.
But since then Spain, Argentina, Holland and Colombia, in 2014, and Belgium have all performed best in the group stage before failing to win the World Cup.
Belgium, who won all three of their group games, got to the semi-finals at the last World Cup in 2018 before losing to eventual champions France, who had secured seven points in their group.
Four years earlier, Holland and Colombia progressed to the last-16 with the same record of nine points and a goal difference of plus-seven. But Colombia lost to Brazil in the quarter-finals and Holland were knocked out in the last four by Argentina. Germany became world champions, having collected seven points in the group stage.
Spain won the World Cup in 2010 after losing their first group game and progressing with six points, while Argentina, who won all three of their group games with a plus-six goal difference, lost to Germany in the quarter-finals.
Four years earlier in 2006, Spain qualified for the knockout stage as the best performing team in the groups with nine points and a plus-seven goal difference, but lost to France in the last-16. Eventual winners Italy had got through the group stage with seven points.
England's World Cup schedule
England's quarter-final is at 7pm on Saturday, December 10. They play France, who beat Poland in the second round.
There are two quarter-finals on the day before, at 3pm and 7pm, and another at 3pm on the Saturday.
If England reach the semi-finals, they could meet either Spain or Portugal. The semi-finals will take place on Tuesday, December 13 and Wednesday, December 14. England would be playing on the latter date.
The World Cup final will take place on Sunday, December 18 at 3pm at the Lusail Iconic Stadium. If England are in the final, they could be pitted against Argentina or Brazil.
Group B results
Who is in the England squad?
Southgate named a 26-man squad for the tournament, including call-ups for James Maddison and Conor Gallagher.
Could an England player win the Golden Boot?
Very possibly. Marcus Rashford or Bukayo Saka look the most likely candidates.
England fan numbers in Doha will be boosted for the quarter-final against France as the Qatar government has eased visa rules for those without tickets.
Relaxations to the Hayya card system coincides with concerns around empty seats at some last-16 ties and will appeal to expat Britons trying to secure a last-minute seat. England’s clash against France was described by sources close to the Qatar government as the “hottest ticket in town” yesterday.
Ticket reselling websites are already selling them on the black market for upwards of £350.
However, Ashley Brown, of the Football Supporters’ Association, said many English-based fans were still resisting the temptation to fly out at this stage. “I think numbers for the quarter-final will only increase slightly from round of 16,” he said of those travelling directly from the UK. “Most travelling fans will hold out for the semi-final or final.”
In total, around 3,500 fans who have travelled from England can be expected at the Al Bayt Stadium, but numbers are significantly boosted by local England-supporting fans and expats.
Qatar’s Ministry of the Interior first ruled on Friday that fans should now be able to enter Qatar without a ticket in a shake-up of temporary entry restrictions.
Visitors still have to apply for a Hayya card, however, providing evidence of hotel accommodation and paying a fee of around £100. Fifa said in a statement midway through the group stages that official figures show the average overall match attendance was at 94 per cent.
However, in the less well attended matches, such as Spain’s opening fixture, there have been reports of organisers letting some locals in for free at half-time.
More tickets were said to have been made available ahead of the event as it emerged the broadcasters would need less than expected room.
One issue for fans appears to be cost, with studies showing this tournament is 40 per cent more expensive for match tickets compared to Russia 2018.
Commuting from Dubai has been popular with England fans because of the emirate’s looser alcohol and partying rules.
Sources close to the tournament confirmed tickets remain available directly from Fifa.
Scenes between fans have been largely peaceful, although there were reports of minor altercations between supporters during Sunday’s 3-0 victory against Senegal.
Generally, however, behaviour has been impeccable, with the UK’s national police lead, Chief Constable Mark Roberts, reporting no arrests.
The absence of alcohol in stadiums is believed to have been a factor in improving behaviour. Some fans have complained of issues relating to the Fifa apps, however, with many forced to queue for hours in blistering heat while technical glitches were sorted.