Five reasons to be cheerful for England fans
Are you excited about the World Cup yet? With the tournament fast approaching, fans are turning their attentions to the action in Russia and the inevitable question has reared its ugly head in pubs, offices and living rooms across the country – ‘how will England do?’.
A quick look around the World Cup odds on williamhill.com, 888 Sport, Bet Fred et al will show you that England are a decent way down the pecking order – with Brazil, Spain, Germany, France, Argentina and Belgium more fancied by the bookies.
But, while it’s not much of a surprise to learn that England aren’t red hot favourites to return home with the trophy, it’s not all doom and gloom. Here are five reasons to feel a bit more positive about England’s chances in the tournament.
The group isn’t as bad as last time
It’s fair to say that the last couple of tournaments haven’t gone too well. The less said about the Euros and Iceland the better, while the last World Cup saw England knocked out after two defeats in the opening two games. Those two games were, however, against Italy and Uruguay and the draw has been a little kinder this time. In Tunisia and Panama England find themselves coming up against two teams they should beat and, while Belgium promises to be a tough third game, England should be able to muster enough points to progress. From there one of Poland, Senegal, Cameroon and Japan await, again not the worst draw in the world. Granted, Brazil or Germany would probably be quarter final opponents, but we can worry about that if we get that far, right?
Match winners and all-rounders
On paper, this isn’t the strongest England squad to go to a World Cup. But, let’s face it, the ‘golden generation’ of Beckham, Scholes, Lampard, Gerrard et al didn’t deliver as much as we hoped. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t match winners in the ranks. Raheem Sterling has gone on to the next level under the tutelage of Pep Guardiola in the last year, Harry Kane continues to be a Premier League goal machine and Dele Alli has consistently delivered the goods for three full seasons at Spurs now. Jamie Vardy is a highly useful weapon to deploy, Marcus Rashford has potential to be a superstar and Jesse Lingard has a habit of scoring big goals in big games for Manchester United. As well as those match winners, Southgate can deploy the likes of Ashley Young, Fabian Delph and Kyle Walker – all clever, versatile players who can switch positions and allow for tactical flexibility within games.
There wasn’t much fanfare when Gareth Southgate got the England job, more a collective shrug of the shoulders. But the former Middlesbrough boss has probably exceeded expectations. He’s qualified for the tournament with little or no fuss – a fact probably undervalued by fans and public alike – has experimented to develop a new formation with a back three and hasn’t been afraid to take big decisions, such as leaving Joe Hart and Jack Wilshere at home. He’s also spoken sensibly about the expectations on his team to help manage the unhealthy hysteria often seen at this stage of the build up.
There’s a refreshingly youthful air about this England squad. It’s easy to forget that Dele Alli is only 22, Raheem Sterling is just 23 and Harry Kane only 24, for example. All three could be England stalwarts for another two World Cups after this if they continue their form – and none should be too weighed down by the failures of the past. The likes of Jordan Pickford and John Stones should also bring useful enthusiasm to the party too.
Vulnerable ‘big guns’
It’s always tempting to focus on the weaknesses in our squad, but what about others? Injuries to Neymar and Mo Salah in the run up to the tournament, for example, have placed doubts on some of the favourites’ biggest names. Germany stumbled to defeat against Austria in a friendly after losing to Brazil and drawing with Spain and Belgium are, let’s not forget, managed by Roberto Martinez. Argentina might have Messi but their defence is fallible, while France have flattered to deceive at times and even drew 0-0 with Luxembourg in qualifying. Some of that might be clutching at straws, but we shouldn’t cower in fear and think all of the tournament’s top teams