IN football, as in life, it's more often the hope that hurts you, not the disappointment.

Before Gareth Southgate's side kicked off this tournament they were dismissed by most of the country.

His bunch of plucky upstarts were deemed too inexperienced, quite underwhelming and bang average and, while expected to progress from the group stage, their modest abilities were a far cry from the so-called Golden Generation – the one that failed so miserably in recent tournaments.

But a combination of solid if unspectacular performances, coupled with exits for some of the planet's big-hitters such as Germany, Argentina, Portugal and Spain, means they have somehow fashioned a more-than-decent chance to reach a first final since 1966.

Harry Kane is in a purple patch of scoring form and could yet take home a shiny golden boot, Jordan Pickford's stock has risen after his penalty shootout heroics – not to mention that save late in the round of 16 game against the Colombians – and the back three is impressing, despite Kyle Walker's occasional gaffe. If the likes of Jesse Lingard, Dele Alli and the endlessly-maligned Raheem Sterling can find a higher gear we could be in for a memorable summer.

England have even managed to lift the spot-kick hoodoo with the sweet victory over a Colombian team who, frankly, were a disgrace with their rough-housing, underhand methods and unwillingness to do what they were better at, if only they had tried to make a game of it.

That picture, posted all over social media, of John Stones' delighted face looking directly at chief villain Wilmar Barrios summed up England's rise to prominence wonderfully at the end of what could prove to be the trickiest outing of their potential route to the final.

And the anti-England rant by Diego Maradona – presumably quite a fan of Colombia – only added a cherry to the top of the cake.

Even defeat to Belgium in the final group match did nothing to dampen the rising fervour for the Three Lions. Qualification had already been sealed, it was only the dubious honour of finishing top of the table at stake. And with both sides making wholesale changes little will have been read into that narrow loss.

The defeat worked in the future Sir Gareth's favour anyway, since the Belgians went into a far more difficult half of the draw, which included Brazil, Uruguay and France in their quarter-finals.

Should England get past Sweden they will face Croatia or hosts Russia with a place in the final at stake. And while they have flourished without the weight of expectation, they are no longer considered rank outsiders and will not be taken lightly by anyone.

So now England expects.

Sweden are defensively solid and patience may be the key today. But the nation will now be demanding and it's up to England to deliver.

Disappointment, should it occur, I can deal with. But the hope they have now instilled is what may yet lead to the same old ending.