In my life time of watching football, I am used to pundits, fans and the press hyping up the England teams chances of excelling at a major tournament. But this time around things are different….with new players, a new manager and a long term plan seemingly in place, there is a feeling this World Cup is a stepping stone to greater things. But I assure you not one fan, player or management staff will be thinking that come the big day….just how will England do?
Despite the relative inexperience of the players and manager, England breezed through the qualifiers and whilst never being outstanding, rarely looked troubled. It is the same old story you may say, but the qualifiers can give you a hint. England struggled in the run up games to Euro 2016 and looked vulnerable at times, but not in this campaign.
Gareth Southgate has been to the big tournaments in the modern era and understands what they are all about. The little touches he will bring, as a man of experience, may be the difference in keeping the squad focused. He has quietly built his own system, introduced his own players and got a team functioning as a team. The criticism always levelled at the previous “Golden era” was that we have a collection of individuals rather than a unit….that can no longer.
The wing back system Southgate seems to favour, is one that will be unique in the tournament. Southgate saw that system function superbly under Glenn Hoddle and seems to be set on imitating it. Opposition may not be used to such a style and we say indeed see it work to England’s advantage. The core of the defence remains strong, the wing backs we have offer great potential both defensively and going forward and the system is very flexible.
Even the most pessimistic England fan must sense qualification is likely. Tunisia and Panama are weak sides, and lack the quality and experience to frustrate England for long. The Belgium game will be key and that will tell us all we need to know. Playing against a team unbeaten in 17 matches, with world class players in every position on the big stage will test any team. A victory in that match may allow England to dream big! That will get the nation dreaming and probably thinking about having a flutter perhaps even on NetBet Sport World Cup Betting.
Should the group stage prove passable, Senegal and Colombia await in the Last 16, both of which England would start as favourites. If that occurs and England earn a Quarter final berth, then that will be mission accomplished for Southgate and company. Anything before the Quarter Finals will be labelled a disappointment, anything after it will be an over achievement.
With Kane, Ali, Sterling and co, along with a solid defence and a dependable set of goalkeepers, any of the opposition who England may face in the latter stages would have to take them as a serious threat.
Will going into a tournament without the hype, as something of an underdog, help the team achieve? Only time will tell