Today is the day folks, it’s time to talk about everyone’s favourite tournament failures: England. The Three Lions haven’t gone further than the quarter-finals in a World Cup since 1990 and the tale of penalty woe plagued the so-called Golden Generation. This time around they have an inexperienced manager fielding an inexperienced team, so why are they emerging as dark horses for the tournament in Russia?
How did they qualify?
In typical English fashion of course, unless you’re Steve McClaren, by cruising through their qualification group with a run of underwhelming wins over the minnows of European football such as Malta, Lithuania and Scotland.
Who will I recognise?
If you’re a fan of the Premier League then I’d hope you’ll recognise all the names on Gareth Southgate’s squad list. Harry Kane is the talisman, a probable captain for the finals, and will lead the line in a World Cup for the first time. He’ll have a supporting cast of the likes of Raheem Sterling, Dele Alli and Marcus Rashford – some have had better seasons than others. If England are going to get anywhere in this World Cup, you suspect that Kane will have to be at the centre of things. If he has another poor tournament like at Euro 2016 then the English fans back home can expect more defeats like Iceland with Panama and Tunisia in the same group. Hopefully, you won’t see Joe Hart taking to the field in Russia, that’s all I can say.
Who should I look out for?
Those of you who aren’t familiar with the English game should take notice of Liverpool’s Joe Gomez. He’s been on fine form for the Reds this season and made his senior England debut back in November and impressed against Brazil and Germany. Gomez can play right-back or centre-back and is good on the ball and doesn’t shy away from a tackle. Another youngster that Southgate could unleash is Ruben Loftus-Cheek. The attacking midfielder put in a man-of-the-match performance on his England debut against Germany last November but his season at Crystal Palace has been blighted by injury ever since – will he be fit in time for June? Roy Hodgson might have something to say about that.
Who’s in charge?
A man who hadn’t had a senior job in football since taking Middlesbrough down to the Championship almost a decade ago. Gareth Southgate is more famous for his semi-final penalty miss against Germany in Euro 96 than his managerial ability but he seems to have struck a chord with the England players since his appointment in 2016 and has seen over the development of many of them having been the England U21s manager in his preview role. It’s a glorious opportunity for a relatively young manager so good luck to him but, let’s be honest, we all wanted to see Sam Allardyce park the bus his way to the World Cup final before defeating Germany on penalties with the help of Mark Noble, Andy Carroll and Kevin Nolan.
What’s their World Cup record like?
The English are very proud of the 1966 triumph on their home turf but other than that, it’s pretty poor for a nation of their size. They’ve been past the quarter-final stages just once since they went all the way over 50 years ago and that ended in tears for all involved. Now you mention tears, England have lost each of their three World Cup penalty shoot-outs and are never far from controversy. We’ve seen David Beckham and Wayne Rooney both sent off for kicking out, the Hand of God in 1986 and the ghost goal of 2010. It’s always interesting when England play in a World Cup – unless it’s Roy Hodgson in charge.
And finally, can they win the 2018 World Cup?
The hype and expectation from back home will almost certainly end in crushing disappointment at the hands of a lesser nation in a penalty shootout, or Germany. So no.