English supporters will have realistic expectations at Russia 2018, with the national team needing to turn around their embarrassing performances at recent tournaments.
England have found themselves in Group G of the competition, with their initial games being against Belgium, Panama, and Tunisia. While the two European teams will be expected to progress, England shouldn’t take anything for granted after failing to progress in Brazil 2014 and being knocked out by Iceland at Euro 2016.
England has the richest and most popular domestic football league in the world. While this creates a great competitive environment for young players, it also tends to raise people’s expectations and gives the manager a shallow pool of players to choose from. With so many of the world’s best players plying their craft in England week after week, sometimes the local boys don’t get a look in. Saying that, however, England have a fantastic squad going into Russia 2018, with their negative experience in recent campaigns possibly helping them to avoid defeat this time around.
If the Three Lions are to make an impression in Russia, everything will need to be in alignment. While new manager Gareth Southgate has been criticised by many, he has overseen a tricky period of change that has seen the ousting of Wayne Rooney and the introduction of a younger squad. Gary Cahill is the only player in the squad with more than 40 international appearances, with the average number of caps being 19.5. Tottenham’s Harry Kane is in great form going into the World Cup, with Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford also showing massive potential.
England’s form going into Russia 2018
Despite their weak performances in recent tournaments, England have not lost a single qualifying match for any major tournament since 2009. While they have had a few boring games along the way, England managed eight wins and two draws to top Group F in European qualifying. A good record during qualifying is quickly forgotten, however, with most fans remembering their embarrassing losses at the last two big tournaments.
During Brazil 2014, the Three Lions shared a group with Italy, Uruguay, and Costa Rica. While this was a tricky group to say the least, the best England could manage was a 0-0 draw against Costa Rica. It was Italy and Uruguay that went on to the Round of 16, with England sent home to an angry media and fan presence. The atmosphere in England was pretty depressing at this time, with no-one knowing what to do next.
Things only got slightly better at the next big tournament, the 2016 European Championships. While England made it past the Group stage this time around, they were knocked out by Iceland during the Round of 16. This defeat seemed to hurt the supporters even more than England, with the tiny nation of Iceland never expected to perform such a knockout blow. Even though England have scored a pretty good group at Russia 2018, they can’t afford to take any of their games for granted.
The England squad
England have a solid young squad going into the World Cup, with a healthy mixture of established and upcoming talent. Gareth Southgate has said that his choices will excite the nation, with Adam Lallana the only big-name omission. The three goalkeepers included are Jack Butland, Jordan Pickford, and Nick Pope, with Pickford probably getting the start. Kyle Walker and Danny Ross will be expected to start on the back right and left respectively, with Smalling and Cahill in the middle.
Henderson and Eric Dier are expected to start in the holding midfield positions, with Delle Ali in front of them and Rashford and Sterling down the wings. It’s hard to go past Harry Kane at the front, with the Tottenham star in fantastic form over the last couple of years. For options up front, Southgate also has Jamie Vardy and Danny Wellbeck to choose from, with England having more depth in the forwards than they’ve had in a long time.
England should make it out of Group G without too much drama, although as we all know, the World Cup never disappoints when it comes to drama. While Belgium will be very tough opposition, Panama and Tunisia should be easy enough to overcome. In many ways, the biggest unknown factor from Group G will be seeing who progresses in top spot. Belgium have an incredibly good line-up this year and could easily defeat England if they’re not careful.
If England do meet expectations and make it out of their group, things will get a lot trickier indeed. While Germany and Brazil are the two favourites at Russia 2018, there are plenty of other teams who could also go all the way. Spain and Portugal can never be discounted, and the same could be said for Argentina, Belgium, and France. While England have what it takes to go a long way at this World Cup, anything better than the Quarter-finals would be a big surprise.