England were a laughing stock after the European Championship two years ago – but not any more.
Now everyone knows who we are, and also how we play. I think manager Gareth Southgate has announced that with what he has done during this World Cup – and it has been brilliant to watch this team grow and grow.
Before the tournament started, I could not make a case for us winning it, I just wanted to see some signs of improvement. If everyone is honest, I don’t think they ever felt that we could get to a semi-final – I certainly didn’t.
But beat Croatia, and England are in the final. It is amazing just to be able to say that, and a great feeling to think about what could happen next.
We are buzzing here in Moscow and back home we know the country is going berserk – and rightly so – because we have got an amazing opportunity to win this tournament.
Is it really coming home? You’ve got to believe, haven’t you? And everything does seem to be falling into place.
I am feeling the same way as a pundit and fan now as I did when I was an England player during Euro 96, when we reached the semi-finals and I was thinking: ‚We can do this, we can go all the way.’
We fell agonisingly short then, but you just get a feeling it will be different this time.
Three Lions on our shirt – a tune that captures the feeling of a nation
As we progressed through each round at Euro 96, it felt as if we were unstoppable. It was a great feeling, and I think that is what has happened to this England team too.
They feel as if they are invincible at the moment – or that is the way it looks anyway.
The other thing this campaign has in common with 22 years ago is everyone is singing the Three Lions song.
Back then, it was all we could hear at our hotel – Paul Gascoigne would wake us up every morning by opening his bedroom window and playing it on his CD player at full blast.
It was always on before every game as well. As soon as we got near Wembley, it was belting out on the team coach too, just to get the atmosphere going.
I’ve never heard that song played so much since then as it has been this summer.
The Lightning Seeds must be absolutely delighted, but it is also a song that has captured the feeling of the nation and reflects the confidence they have in this team.
A first World Cup semi-final in a generation
The last time England reached a World Cup semi-final, in 1990, I was 19. I watched us lose to West Germany on penalties while I was on a family holiday in Portugal.
It is scary to think that 17 of the 2018 squad were not born when that match was played. As well as showing how old I am, it tells us how young this England team are.
They have already done fantastically well to reach the last four. People from outside England could turn around and say ‚you have not beaten anyone decent to get there’ – but that doesn’t matter.
As I said on TV after our win over Sweden, I don’t think there are many people back home who can tell you everyone England played on the way to winning the World Cup in 1966, they only see the trophy at the end of it.
You can only beat what is in front of you, and this team are doing that.
One of the most pleasing things is that it looks like they are having fun at the same time but, as well as our fantastic team spirit, there are other reasons why we have got this far and can be confident of going further.
Something new from England – composure and control
I don’t know if it was because of the euphoria of the Colombia game, but I was not nervous at all during Saturday’s win over Sweden.
I always felt we were in control and we were going to get the right result.
It was our best performance at this World Cup. We managed the game superbly well and the really encouraging thing was the way we looked so assured against decent opposition.
Say what you like about Sweden but they reached Russia by beating France in their qualifying group and finishing above the Netherlands – and then knocked out Italy in the play-offs.
Out here they had three clean sheets in their first four games and topped a group including world champions Germany.
So that made Saturday’s performance even more impressive because we never looked in any danger. It is a very good sign for the tests to come.
We have shown we have got some class too
As well as the fact this team has a plan, something else that has become apparent in Russia is how good our players are.
Before the tournament, there were doubts over whether our goalkeeper, defence and midfield would be good enough at the highest level. Just about the only area where there were no concerns was up front because of Harry Kane.
In goal, Jordan Pickford had only played a handful of senior international games, Leicester centre-half Harry Maguire was unproven at this level and there were question marks over whether Jordan Henderson was the right man for the key role in the centre of midfield.
But all three of them have made a step up at this tournament, and they are not the only ones in Southgate’s squad to have done that.
You could go through the whole side as individuals and say how good they have been – but the key thing is that we are a team.
That is our biggest strength and something that has shone out more than anything over the past three weeks.
Respect Croatia, but don’t fear them
Right from the start of the tournament, we have shown how dangerous we are from set-pieces and, far from teams working out how to stop us, the fear factor has built and built.
Some teams have tried to foul us, which has not worked, but nobody has stopped us – other than in the Belgium game when we were not at full strength.
We know that free-kicks and corners are the big things Croatia will be worried about on Wednesday, but I don’t look at them and see anything to be afraid of.
Of course they have got some technically gifted players – like Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic, who have been superb in this tournament – but they looked dead on their feet during extra time of their quarter-final against Russia.
We have to respect them because of the quality they have got, but we should not fear them and I don’t think the England players will either.
I don’t think anyone will question our mentality going into this game after we passed the tests we faced against Colombia because that night showed we have got character in abundance.
What will give us even more confidence in Moscow is that we scored from open play against Sweden. And we beat them without Kane getting on the scoresheet.
All of that has helped build momentum and belief and I am convinced that our brilliant run at this tournament will continue.
It is obvious these boys are not ready to go home yet.
Alan Shearer was speaking to BBC Sport’s Chris Bevan in Moscow.
|2018 Fifa World Cup semi-final: Croatia v England|
|Venue: Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow Date: Wednesday 11 July, 19:00 BST|
|Coverage: Full radio commentary on BBC Radio 5 live and text commentary online and in BBC Sport app|