England are among the favourites for World Cup glory next year after blazing a trail of destruction across Europe during the qualifying campaign. The Three Lions confirmed their place at the tournament by thumping San Marino 10-0 on November 15. That took their tally to 39 goals in 10 qualifiers, meaning they outscored every other team on the continent.
Bookmakers responded by offering odds of 7/1 on Gareth Southgate’s men lifting the Jules Rimet trophy in Qatar next year. Just two teams are ahead of them in the fixed odds betting, with Brazil and France both priced at 6/1. Can England justify the hype and end 56 years of hurt?
An Upward Curve
England went into the 2018 World Cup with the third youngest and the least experienced squad, but they still went all the way to the semi-finals. They were ultimately overwhelmed by Croatia in extra-time in the semis, but they deserved a great deal of credit for going so deep into the tournament.
The Three Lions went one better this summer by reaching the final of the Euros. It finished 1-1 after extra-time, but they lost a heart-breaking penalty shootout to Italy. If they maintain their upward curve, they could finally win a major trophy in Qatar next year.
A Deep Talent Pool
England have arguably never been blessed with a deeper pool of extremely talented players. Every year or two, it seems like a new collection of budding superstars emerges. For example, Arsenal’s 21-year-old playmaker Emile Smith Rowe made his first start for England against San Marino and scored, as did 20-year-old teammate Bukayo Saka. Smith Rowe was not even named in the initial squad, and he only received a call-up after Marcus Rashford withdrew.
Smith Rowe is a very talented player, but he still has the likes of Mason Mount, Jack Grealish and Phil Foden ahead of him, and he is by no means guaranteed a place on the plane to Qatar. Another superb playmaker, James Maddison of Leicester, cannot even get in the squad.
That is just one example. Just take a moment to consider the depth of quality at right-back: Kyle Walker, Reece James, Trent-Alexander-Arnold, Kieran Trippier. Players like Aaron Wan-Bisakka and Tariq Lamptey cannot get close to the squad.
There are a few old heads to provide experience – Walker and Jordan Henderson are 31, while Kane and Harry Maguire are 28 – but the squad is dominated by youthful exuberance.
Aaron Ramsdale (23) is pushing Jordan Pickford for a starting berth. James (21) and Alexander-Arnold (23) are battling for a place on the right, while Ben Chilwell (24) is contending with Saka (20) and Luke Shaw (26) on the left. Declan Rice (22) and Kalvin Phillips (25) have formed a strong midfield partnership, but the form of 18-year-old Jude Bellingham is making it increasingly difficult for Southgate to leave him out. At just 21, Foden may well be the best of the bunch, but 22-year-old Mount is also a tremendous talent. Mason Greenwood (20) and Jadon Sancho (21) have vast potential too.
These players will continue to improve over the next 12 months, and they should be ready to take the world by storm next year.
Will Southgate’s Tactics Hold England Back?
There are two obvious factors that could prevent England from winning the World Cup – Southgate’s tactics, and the sheer quality of their rivals. On the first point, many criticised the manager for his negativity during the Euros.
England fired in 37 goals in eight qualifiers, but Southgate opted for a much more cautious approach at the tournament. Rice and Phillips sat in front of the back four, and the full-backs were not given much licence to roam up the pitch. As a result, England scored just 11 times in seven games, which was inflated by the 4-0 thumping of Ukraine in the quarter-finals.
There was a sense that England would have beaten Italy in the final if only Southgate had unleashed England’s attacking might. Yet his predecessors were often undone for being too gung-ho, and Southgate is not going to change his ways, so England will need to thrive with just four attacking players on the pitch. He will be able to choose from Kane, Rashford, Raheem Sterling, Tammy Abraham, Ollie Watkins, Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Greenwood, Mount, Grealish, Foden, Saka, Smith Rowe and Sancho to fill those places, which is not bad at all.
Then you must factor in the talent of their rivals. We can wax lyrical about the depth of quality in the England talent pool, but the same holds true for France. Les Bleus crushed their rivals to win the 2018 World Cup, beating Croatia 4-2 in the final.
They were out of sorts at the Euros this summer, but they bounced back by winning the UEFA Nations League. Karim Benzema has come back in from the cold, making them even more formidable, and you can never write off a team containing N’GoloKante and KylianMbappé.
Brazil are also much more solid defensively than they were at the last World Cup. Thiago Silva and Marquinhos have a great partnership at the heart of the defence. Casemiro is such a good holding midfielder that Fabinho – the best in that role in the Premier League – often sits on the bench. They also have arguably the two best goalkeepers in the business in Alisson and Ederson. Going forward, Neymar leads the charge, but there is a great deal of quality around him, so Brazil will be formidable.
Argentina have returned to winning ways after they also toughened up at the back, and they will unleash Lionel Messi, Lautaro Martinez, Paulo Dybala and Angel Di Maria upon their rivals in Qatar. Throw in a resurgent Germany, a very strong Italy, an improving Spain, a strong Belgium team and dark horses such as the Netherlands, Portugal and Denmark, and the competition will be ferocious. England certainly could win the World Cup, but they will need to be flawless to do so.
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