Every time England trot out in a major tournament these days, Irish newspapers are stuffed with columnists proclaiming their support for England and talking about this thing called 'maturity' (I don't know what it is, either).

The 'I actually support England now' piece has become something of a World Cup staple. At this World Cup, that sentiment has expanded beyond the contrarian columnist community and appears, judging by social media at least, to be now almost mainstream. 

The England football team and its management in 2018 have been described as "likeable" so often that newsrooms should seriously consider banning the word until after 15 July.

People seem to be overcome with surprise and delight that the ethos of the current England team is, for the first time ever, not embodied by a head-bandaged Terry Butcher hissing 'God Save Our Gracious Queen!' in the fashion of Gary Wackett, the cartoon hard-man from Mike Bassett: England Manager. 

As a consequence, an increasingly large constituency of Irish people are announcing their support for Eng-er-land - or at the very least insisting they are now at peace with the possibility of them winning.

Strangely, this spirit never seems to pervade the taverns in which I watch England games. 

Annoyingly, on Tuesday night, there was a delay on the telly, with the one in the smoking area a few seconds ahead. This only became apparent in the final minutes when a frenzied roar/moan from outside greeted Jordan Pickford's astonishing save from Mateus Uribe. 

One could easily envisage the spectacle of the Russians doing them in a semi-final in deeply controversial circumstances

Then, as they readied themselves to take the subsequent corner, we heard an ecstatic cheer from outside, of the type you usually hear when Manchester United or Liverpool score in Europe, indicating that Colombia had indeed scored.

We had to grab our drinks and move outside ahead of the penalty shootout, whereupon the barman finally decided to flick a remote and sync up the televisions. Quite what prevented him executing this simple measure in normal time is anyone's guess. 

Judged in the cold light of day, England will probably not win the World Cup. Regrettably, their tabloids appear to have been proven correct in all the cackling about the 'easy side of the draw' following their cunning loss to Belgium in the final group game. The teams in the bottom half are all much of a muchness, though many would conclude that Croatia, on paper, should still be confident of shading it against England in any potential semi-final. 

Indeed, one could easily envisage the spectacle of the Russians doing them in a semi-final in deeply controversial circumstances, an outcome which would surely spark a wave of conspiracy theories and, almost certainly, an offensive tweet from the Foreign Secretary. 

Boris Johnson might have something to say about a semi-final defeat to Russia

They may yet even come a cropper against Sweden, a team against whom they have a famously dismal record in competitive football (Swedes 2 Turnips 1!). 

But all that being said, it can't be denied that this is England's best chance of reaching the World Cup final in many a year. Certainly, their best chance since 2002.

The '02 World Cup is the competition that Irish fans have retrospectively established as "the one we could have won", the logic being that we would have gained so much momentum from beating the referee-favoured Koreans and the ordinary Germans, that the Brazilians would have been helpless against us in the decider in Yokohama. (Oddly, it sits alongside Euro '92 in Irish football's 'we could have actually won that one' pantheon - a tournament we didn't qualify for). 

But it is also the last time that England looked, for a moment, capable of going and winning the thing. They had already beaten their Argentinian nemeses in the group phase, smashed the Danes in the round of 16. And this was already on top of hammering the tar out of Germany in the qualifiers in Munich. When Michael Owen dinked the ball over the Brazilian keeper in the quarter final, it seemed that the hand of history was moving off Tony Blair's shoulder and onto Sven's.

Alas, the British Bulldog spirit was mysteriously absent during the Sven era. The bespectacled Swede's manner had a numbing effect on the traditional passions of Englishmen and they went out meekly in the end, losing 2-1. 

It was Gareth Southgate who was later revealed as the author of the killer line on Eriksson's half-time team talk - "we needed Winston Churchill and we got Iain Duncan Smith." 

While such a critique might sound a bit tabloid-y and old-fashioned ('they're not playin' for the shuuuurt, Clive!'), Southgate has emerged as the most diligent, thorough and enlightened England manager of modern times.

Southgate is reigniting interest in the England team

Up to now, international jobs have been thought the preserve of jaded elder statesmen of the game. David O'Leary, back when he was in reasonable demand, declined to apply for the Ireland job effectively on the grounds that he believed international management was best suited to those fit for semi-retirement.

Southgate, at 47, is an entirely different breed. 

It's richly ironic that Southgate has been the man to ignite English interest in international football again - given that he probably only owes his job to the apathy which preceded it. 

His CV would never have passed muster back in the bullish days of the noughties when the FA, with the hot breath of the tabloids on their necks, felt obliged to scour the continent for a 'world class' manager. 

Following the humiliation of Euro 2016 and the farcical circumstances surrounding Sam Allardyce's resignation, the FA - and the UK press - finally decided to throw their hat at it (or at least it seemed that way). The latter lost the will even to criticise at that stage. 

As observed before on this website, Southgate's promotion to England senior manager put one in mind of the elevation of the Holy Stone of Clonrichert to the status of a Class 2 relic. He was appointed in an atmosphere of 'yeah whatever'.

The job was given to man who was hungriest for it. After initially impressing at Middlesbrough, Southgate presided over their relegation to the Championship in 2009 and then didn't exactly pull up trees with the England U21s. 

But he has shown an energy and a hunger to learn that was completely absent in any recent England manager. For instance, the Wall Street Journal reported recently that Southgate attended an NBA game (between the Minnesota Timberwolves and the New Orleans Pelicans, if anyone is interested) with the intention of analysing whether set-play in basketball could be aped to good effect in football.

Eric Dier slots homes the winning penalty against Colombia

Witness the meticulous analysis that went into examining England's dismal penalty shootout record and how it could be improved.  Players practised and practised and practised penalties until their legs were as tired as they would be in a pressure situation after 120 minutes of football.

Close analysis of England's past shootouts showed that winning teams took longer pauses before striking their pens so English players were told to slow down. 

"If you keep doing what you've always done, you'll get the same results," he said, while attending the Super Bowl to see what insights he could glean from the way NFL teams operate (and also, just to attend the Super Bowl - Southgate is a fan of the gridiron). 

The quote could stand as his credo, his guiding mantra as England manager. 

One does wonder whether Ireland's managerial ticket are as keen to soak up information from all sources? Martin O'Neill has achieved some famous results as Ireland manager but disclosures from past and current players indicate he is not exactly fanatical in his attention to detail. 

The FAI, since the Steve Staunton gamble backfired, have remained in thrall to the celebrity managerial appointment as the salvation to all ills. The Southgate example demonstrates an applicant doesn't need to have the weightiest CV to be the right fit for an international post. 

It could all yet end in familiar tears and recrimination against Sweden but Gareth Southgate's reign as England manager has suggested that, contrary to David O'Leary's claim, youth and hunger is the way forward in international football management.