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How does England 2018 compare to the World Cup winners of 1966?

Now that Gareth Southgate's charges are on the verge of taking England to a World Cup final for only the second time in the country's history, it seems like the right time to make comparisons to the team that lifted the trophy 52 years ago. The team that took the pitch at Wembley in 1966 looked like this: 1 Gordon Banks, Leicester (GK) 2 George Cohen, Fulham (RB) 3 Ray Wilson, Everton (LB) 4 Nobby Stiles, Man United (DM) 5 Jack Charlton, Leeds (CB) 6 Bobby Moore, West Ham (CB) 7 Alan Ball, Blackpool (M) 9 Bobby Charlton, Man United (AM) 10 Geoff Hurst, West Ham (S) 16 Martin Peters, West Ham (M) 21 Roger Hunt, Liverpool (S).

On their way to the final, England had disappointingly drawn with Uruguay in their opening game, before comfortably beating Mexico and France in the group stages. Next was a controversial 1-0 victory over Argentina, which is remembered for the physical approach of the South Americans and Alf Ramsey's subsequent 'animals' comments.

The semi-final saw England defeat Eusebio's Portugal 2-1. With the amazing 29-year-old Gordon Banks in goal, England had just conceded 1 goal in 5 games, prior to the final. Ironically, after becoming a World Cup winner, Banks was dropped by Leicester in the season that followed, as Peter Shilton became the club's number one choice. By contrast, the England team of 2018 started the group stages with a 2-1 win against Tunisia and a 6-1 mauling of Panama, before falling to possible World Cup final opponents Belgium 0-1 in what was a dead rubber of sorts. However, we could judge the defeat as a piece of tactical genius by Southgate, who fielded a weakened team to avoid the big guns in the other half of the draw: France, Brazil, Argentina, Portugal and so on.

The 1-1 draw with Colombia that followed and the victory on penalties showed the world that practice does indeed make perfect. In other words, Southgate's decision to practise penalties paid off. For some reason, which I'll never be able to understand, previous England managers thought it unnecessary to do that, citing how it is impossible to replicate the pressure of a real match. Southgate's success has proved what nonsense that theory was. After the victory on penalties, England saw off obdurate Sweden with a solid, if not awe-inspiring display. The 2-0 win ensured that England reached the semi-finals for the first time since 1990 and now Croatia are the only obstacle barring the way to a second World Cup final. Croatia may not have the pedigree of Eusebio's Portugal, but they do have Luca Modric. Additionally, they have seen off some major nations in this competition already, most notably Argentina, who were trounced 3-0. Penalties will not worry Croatia, as they have beaten two teams in this fashion already.

Therefore, England would be foolish to underestimate the challenge ahead. No doubt, England will stick the 3-1-4-2 formation that has served them so well in the tournament so far. The same line-up is likely to take the field in the next two games. At this point, it could be interesting to compare the current team to that of yesteryear. Jordan Pickford may not yet be a Gordon Banks exactly, but he was certainly impressive against Sweden. The Everton keeper is still a rookie in the international sense, but seems to have an extremely promising future ahead of him.

At right wing back, Kieran Trippier also played well against Sweden. Although offering more from an attacking point of view than 1966's George Cohen, does Trippier offer as much defensively. I'm not so sure. At left wing back, Ashley Young is one of the older squad members. The Manchester United man is the classic case of the attacker being converted into a slightly more defensive position. If Croatia attack down the wings, England could be in serious trouble, unless Young can show he is as good defensively as he is offensively. Like the Trippier-Cohen comparison, Young does not offer the defensive solidity of a Ray Wilson, despite the former's flair going forward.

 In central defence, England of 1966 had the brains of Bobby Moore and the brawn of Jack Charlton: what a combination. This year, England can call upon the physical presence of Harry Maguire and coolness personified of John Stones with the addition of Kyle Walker, as the third centre half. Although the trio have done well thus far, it is hard to compare any defensive partnership or even trio with the Charlton-Moore combination.

Just in front of the defence we have Jordan Henderson, who is about as far removed from Nobby Styles as you can imagine. Nobby was a terrier, nibbling at opponents, stopping them playing. Henderson, meanwhile, is a far more cultured player. I would rather have a Styles-type in front of the defence than the cool Henderson, who relies on reading the game and intercepting rather than harrying, closing down and tackling.

On the left side of Henderson is Dele Alli, who never stops reminding me of Martin Peters. The way Alli ghosted in to convert Jesse Lingard's cross was typical of the former Hammer. On the subject of Lingard, the number 7, although gifted, is not a patch on Alan Ball, who never stopped running in the World Cup final. Additionally, when you remember that Bobby Charlton had an almost free role just in front of Styles, you begin to understand how formidable England 1966 World Cup side was. England's number 9 was indisputably one of the best players in the world and teams had to resort to dirty tactics in order to stop him.

Up front, meanwhile, was Roger Hunt and Geoff Hurst. To this day, I have no idea why Ramsey preferred Hurst to Jimmy Greaves, one of the most prolific and mercurial goalscorers in the history of football, but the manager's choice paid off. Likewise, Harry Kane, despite his goals, is not everyone's cup of tea. Kane lacks pace, but no one can question his goals-to-games ratio. Luckily, he has Raheem Sterling's pace alongside him to make up for his shortcomings in the speed department. Nevertheless, it is difficult to imagine Kane scoring a hat-trick in a World Cup final, but the one thing that this tournament has been is unpredictable.

A triumph on penalties on Russian soil in the semi-final and final could be just as admirable an achievement as what Ramsey's boys did in 1966 with a superior squad of players. One note of caution though, don't expect the World Cup winners to put in as good a shift in the season to follow. If you don't believe me, ask Gordon Banks!

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