IAN LADYMAN: England can dare to dream! Tournament know-how gives Gareth Southgate’s side a chance
England arrived in Qatar with Gareth Southgate leading a side that even some of his harshest critics may have chosen as well.
Whether they are a team good enough to win a World Cup is the question now.
Southgate and the Football Association have had their eyes on this tournament for a long time.
Gareth Southgate and the FA have had their eyes on the 2022 World Cup in Qatar for a while
As soon as the whistle sounded in the semi-final of their 2018 campaign in Russia, it was a World Cup that England began to feel like they could possibly win.
It seemed a remote possibility for much of this year. England’s form has been miserable, with the individual career trajectories of some of our key players suddenly facing the wrong direction.
But the World Cups always arouse optimism and that of England is not entirely unfounded. Better to have players with uncertain form in a big month than to have a group that was never going to be good enough in the first place.
The England squad have arrived in Doha, Qatar ahead of this winter’s major tournament
England have a group of footballers talented enough to win big games and go deeper this winter in Doha. With a total of 820 caps between them, they have players with plenty of tournament experience. It is probably just as important.
But it’s hard to escape the feeling that Southgate’s England will need a perfect desert storm if they progress further than the last eight.
They will need their key players – men such as Harry Maguire, Jordan Pickford, Declan Rice, Phil Foden and Harry Kane – to find their best form and, just as importantly, be granted the freedom and license to play by their manager.
England will also need a draw beyond the group stages and as always they will need luck.
England will need all their key players to find their best form at the major tournament
It can happen, however. To some extent, he did last summer at home as those things came together to propel England to a European Championship final that was lost on penalties to Italy.
Three years before, in Russia, England weren’t forced to beat a highly reputable side – only Colombia on penalties and then Sweden in the round of 16 – before losing to Croatia in the final. square. That’s what we mean when we say luck.
It is said that football teams have to keep moving forward if they don’t want to wither away. When we look at where England went from qualifying for the World Cup – two real-time defeats in 32 games – to where they are now – no wins in six – then the threat to the national team and even for the future of their coach is very real.
But not everything was perfectly prepared before the tournament last summer either. Maguire and Raheem Sterling were out of form. Captain Kane looked exhausted after a long season with Tottenham.
Two games into the Euros, after a lame 0-0 with Scotland in which the opposition were the better side, there were calls for Kane to be dropped. Much of that was forgotten once the summer kicked off with victory over Germany on an electric night at Wembley in the first knockout stage.
That’s what can happen in tournaments. Russia 2018 was Southgate’s first as a manager. The previous one, Euro 2016 in France, was ended by Iceland in the first knockout round.
But once England beat Panama 6-1 in their second group match at Nizhny Novgorod, things changed. Something as simple as a result can change direction and inject purpose into a campaign.
It can be a game or even just a moment or a goal. That’s what England have to hope happens in Qatar and what’s encouraging is that the first two Group A games offer opportunities.
England face Iran, USA and Wales in the 2022 World Cup group stage in Qatar
England will face Iran next Monday. Four days later, it’s the United States. Southgate will spend this week telling their players and the public that there are no easy games, but they will know that a good start – an early goal-looting against modest opposition – could give confidence, momentum and the belief that English football lacked everything. year. And that can change things.
World Cups are short tournaments, but a lot can happen to a team within a team. For example, Spain lost their first match of the 2010 version against Switzerland in South Africa and won the tournament.
The 1982 World Cup is best remembered for Italy’s 3-2 victory over Brazil in the second group stage and the exploits of the late Paolo Rossi, who helped his country win the trophy with six goals.
What is less well remembered is that Italy did not win a single match in the first group (they drew against Poland, Peru and Cameroon) and that Rossi did not score his first goal until his hat-trick against Brazil in what was his fifth game of the competition.
It will take something to give England such a spark in Qatar, that’s for sure. It’s hard to say they’re better than they were at the Euros, where they relied on defensive solidity – Pickford conceding no goals ahead of the semi-final against Denmark – which could prove beyond them this time around.
Pickford is a better player than he was 18 months ago, but is probably the only member of the England defense to be.
Southgate have been denied the use of their top two full-backs Reece James and Ben Chilwell through injury while Maguire, John Stones and recall Eric Dier cannot state what kind of form they would have liked to have before the one of the biggest months. of their sporting life.
England have lost two key Chelsea full-backs Reece James (pictured) and Ben Chilwell to injury
Southgate has traditionally used a three-man defensive formation against top sides, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see him do so throughout this World Cup.
There’s nothing tactically sophisticated about it. The 52-year-old just knows he has to put some protection around Maguire, that he doesn’t have a centre-half he can rely on. It’s a sobering thought at such a time, but it’s the reality and Southgate has always been the most pragmatic of managers.
Southgate himself has found himself under pressure recently. The review, he deserves it. To be booed off the pitch by a section of England’s roving support following the loss to Italy in Milan in September, he certainly didn’t.
As for his future, he has repeatedly said in recent weeks that he is preparing to stay after Doha. He has a contract that runs until after the summer Euro 2024 in Germany and would like to complete it.
Whether he will be given that opportunity will depend on what happens in Qatar. The reality is that a finish in the Round of 16 would be representative of England’s situation.
There are several more beautiful teams in the tournament. Brazil, Spain, France and Belgium are certainly four. Germany are probably another as even a side like Denmark, who sailed through qualifying unscathed until a final dead rubber game, would like a chance against England on neutral ground.
Realism gives no respite to a coach at a World Cup, of course. Especially if he’s English. For many, an exit from the last eight would represent Southgate’s worst tournament result in three and therefore would not be enough.
Fortunately, there was no drama or controversy in the short time between the stoppage of domestic play and when the England plane took off yesterday. Cristiano Ronaldo took up most of the space on the front and back pages and Southgate will thank him for that.
Southgate landed at Hamad International Airport in Doha around tea time. He has with him a group of committed and seasoned players. England is good tourists these days and won’t be a breeze for anyone.
Of course, they will have to prove themselves much more than that from now on.