Pressure. Disappointment. Agony. Three words that sum up England’s recent World Cup history and performances. No other nation feels the pressure more than England, with fans, pundits and the media craving for success. England has had some legends play in the last three World Cups but each time the team has failed to impress on the biggest stage in international football. In 2006, managed by Eriksson, the team were less than convincing in a group that included Paraguay and Trinidad & Tobago, and eventually losing to Portugal in the quarter finals. In 2010, Fabio Capello’s England once again failed to impress against the likes of USA, Algeria and Slovenia, before losing to Germany in the round of 16. Then came in Roy Hodgson and in 2014, England were humiliated by losing their first two group stage games against Uruguay and Italy and got knocked out without making any impact.
Roll forward to 2017 and England have once again qualified for the World Cup. It took a last minute, Harry Kane goal against Slovenia but this should not mask the impressive qualifying campaign the English have had. Out of the 10 qualifiers, they have won 8 and drawn 2, while conceding only 3 goals. Where they have seemingly struggled, is scoring goals. Only 18 goals all through the qualifiers, in contrast to Belgium who have scored 43 goals! That aside, Gareth Southgate has been a breath of fresh air, bringing new ideas and highlighting his relative youth compared to his predecessors. Furthermore, after all the disappointments over the years, fans seem to have lowered their expectations and with other powerhouses like Germany, Brazil, France and even Belgium flexing their muscles, you cannot blame them.
Going into Russia 2018, England may not have the household names of the 2006 World Cup but under Southgate, there are numerous youngsters who are impressing, and even though they may not be the strongest team on paper, there are definitely some key strengths in this team. Let’s break this team down and take a look at who and what will be crucial in determining England’s success.
Goalkeepers: Joe Hart has been England’s number one for some time now and he has had his ups and downs throughout the years. Now, he is being pushed to keep performing well because of the emergence and performances of Jack Butland and Jordan Pickford. England have never had this depth in goalkeepers and this could prove to be very important for the Three Lions, providing them with a solid and reliable platform to build upon. It will be interesting to see whether Butland or Pickford can usurp Hart as the number one as the Premier League season progresses.
Defenders: No more Terry, Ferdinand or Cole at the back but England’s defence has all the ingredients required to be successful at the World Cup. Led by Chelsea captain, Gary Cahill, England have an array of young center backs who look hungry and ready to play. Keane, Maguire, Jones and Stones are some names who have impressed so far. The Full Back positions are also well manned, with Walker, Trippier, Rose and Bertrand proving themselves well in the Premier League. All these players give Southgate the opportunity to switch between a four at the back to a back three that has become increasingly popular in England.
Midfielders: This is probably England’s biggest worry because they lack balance and creativity in midfield, something teams like Belgium and France have in abundance. Henderson and Dier will probably be expected to start as the two holding midfielders and while they are solid and reliable, their attacking qualities can be questioned. Further up, Dele Alli, Sterling and Rashford will be expected to provide pace and support to the striker. They are all young and can they perform together on the big stage? Time will tell. However, there are no big-name backups for these positions, and the balance between attack and defense in midfield is questionable.
Strikers: England is blessed to have one of the best strikers in the world right now. Their very own Harry Kane, who has taken world football by storm. If England are to be successful in Russia, Harry Kane will need to be fit and fully firing because the team relies heavily on him for goals. On the bright side, Jamie Vardy and Daniel Sturridge are capable of playing key supporting roles and can chip in with important goals. Just like their defence, England seem strong in attack.
So, what can we expect from England next summer? It all depends on what group they get drawn into and being ranked number 12 in the world will not help their cause. Furthermore, Gareth Southgate has 6 months to find the perfect balance in midfield and the Premier League season has already highlighted some new players looking to make the breakthrough. With the pressure seemingly off England, can the three lions finally roar again?