It’s hard to remember the last time England weren’t one of the favourites in the eyes of the country’s press, going into a major international tournament. A studded qualifying campaign would put the expectations up at a great height, and it would always stir hope that the first breakthrough since 1966 was on the way.
Several teams have tried, and several teams have failed. The likes of Gary Lineker, Paul Gascoigne, Alan Shearer Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney have all been considered some of the best in the world at their prime, but their efforts for England have always fallen short when they mattered most.
Different story in Russia
The World Cup is back next year in Russia. England sealed qualification to the same this week with a thoroughly unconvincing and labored 1-0 win over Slovenia at Wembley. The game lacked any sort of spark throughout, and needed a last-gasp toe-poke from captain Harry Kane to win it.
Last night was a similar story, with Kane proving the difference between England and Lithuania from the penalty spot. The Three Lions have 26 points from 10 qualifying games and have utterly dominant on paper, but there are several questions yet to be answered.
Lots of potential, but Gareth Southgate needs to find his best team
This England team may not be the most experienced, but it has bags and bags of ability. The front three of Marcus Rashford, Deli Alli and Harry Kane screams of pace, creativity and goals. They haven’t quite clicked to their full potential yet, but there is still time. The other options include Raheem Sterling, Jesse Lingard, Jamie Vardy and Adam Lallana, all of whom possess some serious pace and skill.
The midfield is a slight dilemma, with the partnership of Eric Dier and Jordan Henderson not quite working. Last night, Spurs youngster Harry Winks was given his debut in place of Dier, and put in a stellar performance. Dier and Henderson are both a bit static, preferring to stick back and spray their passes. They need a lot more energy and running there. Ross Barkley, who is currently out injured, could be the solution but he needs to start playing regularly at club level to be considered. The same could be said for Arsenal’s Jack Wilshere, who has experience of playing regularly for England, but hasn’t featured since 2016 following injuries.
Gary Cahill and John Stones currently occupy the centre-back roles, but Harry Maguire will surely be in contention if he continues to play well for Leicester City.
Can this group compete with the best?
If we look at recent performances, one might say no. But if we go further back, this team beat Germany 3-2 away from home, coming back from 2-0 down. The goals scored by Kane, Vardy and Dier on the day were all fantastic. Their performance against France in June this year was really encouraging too, even though a defensive calamity saw the French run out 3-2 winners despite being down to ten men.
Kane is one of the best strikers in Europe at the moment, and can score goals against anyone in the world. He only needs a half-chance, such is the quality of his finishing. He has been on target in every game since taking on the armband in June, and has a total of 7 goals in 6 games for England in 2017. There may be a slight over-reliance on the Spurs man, but he doesn’t seem to have a problem with that at all.
There is still a long way to go before this England team becomes the final package. However, with the media labeling them underdogs going into the World Cup next year, a lot of pressure is being lifted off. There will still be a lot of expectations, but nobody is expecting them to go on and win the tournament.
It remains to be seen what kind of group they draw this time. Last time, Italy and Uruguay were both in the same group, and Roy Hodgson’s men finished bottom. If they can get an easier passage through to the knockout stages this time, the confidence surrounding the camp will only grow.
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Published by Kash Pals