Another major tournament rolls around, and the hopes and dreams of England fans across the world once again dare to ignite in the name of hope and desire. England, who couldn’t play football – they had it in the bag 52 years ago, but to be fair they have struggled to get anywhere near replicating the glory days of 1966 since then. They may have managed to get to a few quarter-finals in World Cups – and indeed that seems to now be the benchmark for a decent tournament – but they haven’t got to within touching distance of the final in the intervening years. Following on from last week’s look at Argentina’s chances this summer, it is now time to take a look at just how Gareth Southgate’s men could fare in Russia.
Any side with quality like that possessed by Harry Kane is a side that should be fancying their chances at any tournament. Kane isn’t, of course, the only player of genuine quality in England’s ranks, but for one reason or another most seem to struggle to translate their domestic form onto the international stage. The side have long since frustrated their supporters with either below-par performances or just sheer bad luck, but on their day England are capable of beating just about anyone. They just need to have a few of “their days” this summer and they could look to end that semi-final-less hoodoo.
The problem is that England are in something of a rather bizarre quandry when it comes to international tournaments. Sure, there may have been European semi-final experience 22 years ago and a title win at Le Tournoi in 1997, but it relates more to the mystique – the aura, perhaps – around the team. Despite the support dreaming and feeling confident that this summer England can finally vindicate themselves with a good showing, and despite the fact that there will be 11 high quality players turning out for them, there almost seems to be an inherent doubt that it will be a good tournament. Not just this one – but any tournament at all. Every two years it seems very much the same.
Providing the support to the aforementioned Kane will be the likes of Marcus Rashford, Dele Alli and Premier League champion Raheem Sterling. That is a potent attacking line, and one more than capable of putting even the most efficient defences to the test. At the other end, despite something of an issue relating to having a regular number 1 goalkeeper, the defence is pretty good too. Gary Cahill and John Stones seem the preferred central defensive pairing, and both are players more than worthy of their place in the side. Jordan Henderson seems to have a fan in Gareth Southgate, and so he could prove the hub through which much of England’s play goes. That is arguably the best spine England have had for some time too. OK, at one stage two great players in Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard paired up in midfield, but rarely did it really work to full effect.
This midfield should indeed work. While Gareth Southgate’s appointment was seen as perhaps a little underwhelming given some of the names being linked with the role following Roy Hodgson’s departure after a disastrous Euro 2016 exit at the hands of Iceland, he has looked to be a good solid man to have in the dugout. He sticks by his decisions but isn’t afraid to experiment, takes criticism but isn’t afraid to stand up for himself. That could be a vital factor if the Three Lions are to finally end over five decades of disappointment and show the world that they belong among the best sides in the competition.
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