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Is England’s run to the semi-finals the easiest in World Cup history?

If there's one caveat to England's incredible run it's that we haven't played a big team yet

You can only play what is in front of you.

And so far England have dealt with pretty much every hurdle with efficiency and quality, Belgium aside.

But then we didn’t want or need to beat the Belgians and we might get our chance again in the final.

Paint this on my living room wall

PA:Press Association
Paint this on my living room wall

With euphoria sweeping over the nation in waves of ‘It’s coming home’ chants, there is one little whisper of realism.

The only caveat to England’s incredible run to the World Cup semi-final is that they haven’t actually played any of the big sides.

They haven’t beaten a team ranked above them yet and when they did play Belgium they lost.

So, is England’s route to the semi-final the easiest in World Cup history?

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An England goalkeeper saving a penalty, pinch me

An England goalkeeper saving a penalty, pinch me

So far England, ranked 12th before the tournament started, beat Tunisia (ranked 21st), Panama (55th), lost to Belgium (3rd), then beat Colombia (16th) and Sweden (24th).

It’s not a list of international heavyweights but other than Panama there’s no minnows in there.

But is definitely no the easiest in World Cup history…

Italy 2006


AP:Associated Press

Like England will do, Italy went all the way to win it and no one ever discusses who they played in the run-up.

Except me, in this article.

But when you cast an eye over their run to the semis it is in no way any harder than who England have faced.

Italy started the tournament ranked 13th and faced Ghana (48th), Czech Republic (2nd) and USA (5th) in the group stage.

There are two highly ranked countries but nobody would say either Czech Republic or USA were a better team than Italy when the tournament started.

Then came Australia (42nd) in the last-16 and Ukraine (45th) in the quarters – after that it was Germany and France.

Germany 2002

You’re looking at the all-time World Cup top scorer right here

Getty Images - Getty
You’re looking at the all-time World Cup top scorer right here

Back when Germany were, you know, not getting knocked out in the group stages.

They made it all the way to the final in 2002 but couldn’t overcome Brazil to win it.

But they had possibly the easiest path to the semi-final and final in the tournament’s history.

It started with Ireland (15th), Saudi Arabia (34th) and Cameroon (17th) in the groups, before Paraguay (18th) then USA (13th) to make it to the semis.

Then in the semi-final they played South Korea (40th) to get a chance to win the World Cup.

It doesn’t get easier than that.

Brazil 1998

Name a more iconic duo

Getty - Contributor
Name a more iconic duo

Another defeated finalist with a stroll to the showpiece game.

Brazil had the original Ronaldo in their ranks, were the number one team in the world and reigning world champions.

So their run of Morocco (13th), Scotland (41st) and Norway (7th) in the group stage was straightforward – despite losing to the Norwegians with their B-team (another similarity to England here).

Chile (9th) were no challenge in the last-16 before a tie against Denmark (27th) to reach the semis.

The moral of this article is that, if you win it or reach the final nobody will talk about the ‘easier’ opposition you faced on the way there.