It’s painful being an English football fan. After 56 years, the national men’s team have come close but are yet to get their hands on a second major international trophy since their maiden World Cup victory in 1966. They beat classic rivals West Germany 4-2 in the final on their home turf at Wembley Stadium but any success since then has eluded them.
In the six decades that have come since then, they have appeared in one final (a losing effort to Italy in the European Championships last summer) had poor showings and gone through periods of not even qualifying for them. However, for the first time in a while, there is an air of confidence around their chances in a World Cup. World Cup odds currently have England at 8/1 to win the tournament.
The Start of Something Special
It all started following the departure of Roy Hodgson after England’s poor performance in the 2016 European Championships. Sam Allardyce took over for one game but the less said about his time in charge the better. It was after this that the FA turned to then England u21s manager Gareth Southgate. The appointment was met with groans from fans. Another in a long line of underwhelming managerial appointments. After all, he had been disappointing in his only managerial stint at a club side when his Middlesbrough side was relegated under his leadership in 2009.
He had coached well at the u21’s, but there was nothing to write home about. He helped England to qualifying for the 2018 World Cup in Russia but that was expected, the real challenge was the tournament itself and our prospects were not exactly bright. But then came the tournament itself
The Three Lions surprised everyone by getting as far as the Semi-Finals before bowing out to Croatia. After expecting so little pre-tournament, a fourth-place finish was a great step and all eyes looked towards Euro 2020. Southgate took England one step further and finished as runners up, losing an agonising penalty shootout to Italy in the final. With a new golden generation of talent such as Phil Foden, Bukayo Saka and Jude Bellingham entering the squad, the next logical step seems to be winning the next tournament. But can they do it in Qatar?
The Task at Hand
There are a few key players that England will be relying on if they are to progress in this tournament. The most obvious of them all is star striker Harry Kane. After winning the golden boot in Russia in 2018, the Spurs frontman finished as the joint-second top scorer in Euro 2020 with four goals. A genuine world class talent, he has 51 goals in 75 games and sits just three goals off of England’s all-time top goal scorer Wayne Rooney. His eye for goal will be vital to Southgate’s plans this winter.
What is perhaps most exciting however is the young talent in the ranks. Foden, Saka and Bellingham all look likely to start aged just 22, 21 and 19 respectively. All standout performers for some of the biggest clubs in Europe, it is finally their time to shine on the biggest international stage of them all.
What is alarming however is the team’s form heading into the tournament. England are without a win in six games, including an embarrassing 4-0 loss at home to Hungary in the Nations League. There was some good to take out of their final warmup game before the tournament however when they bounced back from a two-goal deficit to eventually draw 3-3 with rivals Germany.
It could also be noted that Southgate was playing rather experimentally in these games and the heavy schedule of the last year could have also played a part in their fatigued showing. Now with time to rest, hopefully they can come back rejuvenated when it matters the most.
There are also some high-flying favourites for the tournament who have performed equally as poorly heading into the tournament. Current holders France won just one of their Nations League fixtures, losing twice to Denmark and drawing with Croatia before losing the next. Germany also won just one of their Nations League fixtures, also losing to Hungary. These matches were seen as not much more than glorified friendlies and were treated as such by coaches.
However, the form of Brazil and Argentina should worry England. If they are to progress through to the latter stages of the tournament, they are likely to face one if not both of them and with both South American sides in a rich vein of form, the Three Lions will have to be at their very best if they wish to put an end to their 56-year drought.
Whilst England may not be the top favourites, they are in the conversation, and this is their best opportunity at winning the World Cup since their previous golden generation went to waste in the mid-noughties. There will be high expectations for this current crop of players, and should they play to their strengths, there is no reason they can’t make it all the way.