There seems to be an awful lot of doom and gloom around England these days, and I don’t really go in for it myself. Sure, the so-called Golden Generation never got any further than the Quarter-Finals, but so what? When your club side is down in the dumps, you don’t toss them to one side and boast of how you are no longer interested in them.
So to buck that trend, we’re taking a look at seven reasons for England fans to be optimistic for the World Cup:
7. Harry Kane
Going into this World Cup, England have a goal scorer - a proper a goal scorer. It could be argued that England have the best out-and-out centre-forward in world football going into the finals in Russia, and even if you disagree, you’d be foolish to put him outside the top five. To crunch the numbers, Kane has now scored 135 goals in 187 games for Tottenham over the last four seasons, and last season was his best yet - bagging 41 in 48. Kane’s recent record for England is even more impressive, with 8 goals from his last 7 international caps. He’ll captain the Three Lions in Russia, and he gives them the constant capacity to score goals.
This may well be the worst England squad in my lifetime, but they do seem to have something that the Golden Generation often lacked - and that is a sense of togetherness.
You get the impression that this England team would be willing to fight for the man stood next to them or either side of them. That can count for a lot in football. That sense of togetherness goes beyond the players themselves too, as you feel that they are also at one with Gareth Southgate’s ideas right now. Everyone pulling in the same direction can be crucial at major tournaments.
This picture taken on June 10, 2018 shows arena Baltika stadium on Oktyabrsky Island of Kaliningrad, ahead of the FIFA World Cup 2018in Russia. - Kaliningrad's football stadium is one of...
One of the major flaws of England’s Golden Generation was their tactical rigidity. A 4-4-2 clearly did not get the best out of three world class central midfield players in the forms of Paul Scholes, Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard. Gareth Southgate, to his credit, seems to be much more versatile and for want of a better word - ballsy - when it comes to the tactical side of the game.
England will almost certainly play a back three - or five, depending on your philosophical outlook - in Russia, which has seen them look very solid. England have solidity, pace and goals in their side, and Southgate’s approach should give them the ability to counter-attack effectively against the better teams.
4. Group G
Now, one must approach this issue with an gargantuan dose of caution, but England could scarcely have picked a better group for themselves if Gareth Southgate was allowed to pick the balls out at the World Cup draw himself. Of the top tier teams, Belgium are arguably the most beatable, given their recent lack of harmony and underachievement, twinned with the fact that a huge chunk of that Belgium side are well-known to England’s players as they play in the Premier League. So England shouldn’t face the culture shock they’ve often struggled with on the international scene.
From Pot 3 of seeding, Tunisia were certainly one of the weakest sides. One of their best players plays in Qatar and has been ruled out through injury, one couldn’t get a look in at Leicester City and another one is currently on-loan from League One side Sunderland. That’s not being disrespectful, that’s just to say the level they are at. As for Panama, England could have drawn the likes of Serbia and Japan in Pot 4, so they should count their blessings they got Panama, whose best player is 36 and that’s not far off the average age of their squad.
In all seriousness, Tunisia and Panama will put up backs to the wall jobs against England. The Three Lions lack genuine creativity from midfield, but that shouldn’t matter against this level of opposition. Keep their composure and the goals will come. Win those two, and they can go toe-to-toe with Belgium.
3. Raheem Sterling
Raheem Sterling of England during the International Friendly match between England and Nigeria at Wembley Stadium on June 2, 2018 in London, England.
Okay, so we mentioned Harry Kane at the start of this video, but England have another weapon in their attacking arsenal, and his name is Raheem Sterling. Although much like the tabloids, we are outraged at young Raheem’s continued antics, whether it be eating breakfast or buying sinks for his mum, it doesn’t change the fact that he’s pretty good at football, and he’s got a whole lot better under Pep Guardiola at Manchester City.
24 goals and 12 assists from 52 outings last season tells of the transformation of a player who has long been criticised for his lack of end product. Only Harry Kane and Mohamed Salah had more combined goals and assists than Sterling last season, and if he played for any other country, we’d be talking about him as a potential star in Russia. We’d love to see Raheem take this tournament by the scruff of the neck, and he’s certainly got the talent to do just that.
Now this has always been a bit of a bear trap for England fans, since the national team has regularly fared very well in friendlies and qualifiers before faltering at the finals. Take 2001, when England beat the Germans 5-1 in Germany in the World Cup qualifiers, only to go out in the Quarters in South Korea & Japan as Germany reached the final - although both nations were beaten by Brazil in the end. More recently, there was that thrilling 3-2 comeback in Berlin in 2016, months before Icelandic humiliation at the Euros.
Nonetheless, England have had some tough friendlies since November, facing Germany, Brazil, the Netherlands and Italy. They didn’t lose a single one of those games and conceded only once against Italy. Friendly or not, that’s an admirable record. Wins against Nigeria and Costa Rica were also positive.
1. Round of Sixteen
Another source of optimism for England should be their potential opponents in the round of sixteen. In 2010, England lost to Germany in the round of 16, going out at the same stage to Argentina in 1998. Should England get out of their group in Russia, they will have a comparatively kinder draw than that. England are in Group G, whose top two teams will face the top two from Group H, which is made up of Colombia, Poland, Japan and Senegal. Every one of them would be a beatable side, and that should give Gareth Southgate’s men some inspiration.
To conclude, we don’t think England are going to win the World Cup. The quality isn’t there in key areas, particularly in the middle of the park. On the other hand though, there’s no reason why they can’t give a really good account of themselves and at least restore some pride in the English game for future tournaments as a young, up-and-coming squad. I think England will reach the Quarters, where they’ll probably be beaten by either Germany or Brazil, and there’s no great shame in that.