Saturday, June 19, 2021
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World Cup 2018: Hopes and Expectations for England

England badge (via Wikipedia)After all the build up and anticipation, the 2018 World Cup is well and truly underway and has already provided some surprise results. The first 4 days of the World Cup were a great spectacle for England fans, they witnessed the holders (Germany) lose to Mexico, Brazil and Argentina having unconvincing draws with Switzerland and Iceland respectively, plus France getting a little lucky to defeat Australia 2-1. Spain and Portugal did produce the most spectacular game we've had up to this point, but neither team could land the killer blow in another draw.


Monday night changed all that, it was time for England to begin their own World Cup quest, versus Tunisia, and for the nerves to take hold. Now, in light of their late, dramatic win, where do we stand with our hopes and expectations for this squad..?




England vs Tunisia


Well, let's be perfectly honest. For the opening half an hour, England were excellent against Tunisia, at least up until the point that it came to shooting at goal. England created wave after wave of chances and the North African team were completely rattled, but even though Harry Kane made the breakthrough in the 11th minute, there was a growing frustration that the game wasn't dead and buried before half-time.


It surely would have been if Jesse Lingard had converted one of the 3, very good opportunities that came to him. Instead, England went into the break at 1-1, which was pretty absurd but is an experience that should act as a valuable lesson to this young squad. Yes the penalty awarded against Kyle Walker was soft, but then the Manchester City right back shouldn't have swung his elbow at Fakhreddine Ben Youssef and given the referee the excuse to point at the spot. In other words, if England want to build on what was an impressive first half performance, they must keep their concentration at all times, and practice their shooting! (aside from Kane of course).


The 2nd half for England raised more concerning questions though. The team dominated possession and were comfortable, but they increasingly looked unable to muster a shot on the Tunisian goal, in stark contrast to their previous 45 minutes. Huge credit has to be given for the way in which Gareth Southgate and his team kept going, and finally secured their win in stoppage time, but the World Cup will only get tougher and they will need to force the issue more effectively if they're to make a lasting impact. As for the referee and the use of VAR, I think we can all agree that if it was used in the right way, then Harry Kane would've been awarded at least one penalty of his own.



English Football Faces Reality


If you're an England fan, the downs have often outnumbered the ups in major tournaments. That being said, the last 10 years have been particularly galling, here's the record:


  • Euro 2008- Did Not Qualify
  • World Cup 2010- Eliminated in Round of 16
  • Euro 2012- Eliminated in Quarter-final
  • World Cup 2014- Eliminated in Group Stage
  • Euro 2016- Eliminated in Round of 16


Not great is it. But, conversely, this has had the effect of lowering expectations for England supporters and somewhat easing the pressure on the current squad. It also helps that the weight of the so-called 'golden generation' has been removed from the international scene, with only John Terry and Ashley Cole still actively playing (for now).


Whereas the Sven-Göran Eriksson era was somewhat burdened by the pressure to be winning tournaments, this England team doesn't have that sword of Damocles hanging over them. Remember, Eriksson achieved 3 consecutive quarter-finals as England boss, 2 of which were a penalty shoot-out away from the semi-finals. I suspect that this legacy is looked upon more favourably in light of the subsequent years of failure, it certainly should be.


The last time I genuinely believed that an England team could, and might, end the 'years of hurt' since 1966, was at Euro 2004. They played decent football throughout that summer in Portugal, including in the defeat vs France in their opening game, when England somehow conspired to turn a professional 1-0 win into a 2-1 defeat during stoppage time! England fans were thrilled by a marauding Wayne Rooney, who terrorised Switzerland and Croatia, as well as superb form from Frank Lampard. Sadly, thanks to penalties, we'll never know if they would have triumphed against the Netherlands or Greece.



England Hopes for the 2018 World Cup


What about Russia 2018 then? A few of these England players were a part of the 2014 World Cup or Euro 2016, but most of them were young prospects and their legacies won't be defined by those tournaments. Rather than being scarred by those experiences, this squad should still be young enough to have relatively little fear and to be excited by the challenges that they face in the coming days/weeks.


England fans can be optimistic, the 1st half of the Tunisia game demonstrated why, but then the 2nd half also showed exactly why no one will be making any bold predictions. The truth is, the final group game vs Belgium will give a true indication of how far this England team can go. If they can stand their ground and threaten the nation ranked 3rd in the world, it will be hard for England to keep playing the underdog role.


Ultimately, regardless of what happens, the 2018 World Cup should be viewed as a stepping-stone in developing an England squad that has many novices at international level. In an about turn from the Eriksson years, if England were to make the quarter-finals in Russia, us fans should be satisfied as well as hopeful for what may come at Euro 2020.


It's worth noting that only 8 countries have ever won the World Cup, and across 20 previous tournaments those 8 have made up 32/40 finalists. England may have only appeared in (that) 1 final, 52 years ago, but they'll always be a part of this exclusive club, plus they have a 100% win record! You never know... 

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