After 56 years of hurt, the England men’s team are yet to win their second trophy on the international stage since their maiden World Cup triumph in 1966. They beat West Germany 4-2 at Wembley Stadium on that day, but so far have failed to build on it.
In the time since there has been close calls, poor performances, non-qualifications and penalty heartache including last year’s loss in the Euros final. There are many sacrifices England fans would make to see their team win the World Cup once more.
However, there is an air of confidence surrounding the team right now that has not been seen in quite some time and many are even tipping England to win the upcoming World Cup in Qatar this winter.
A winter tournament is something that still does not sit well with many fans however with it disrupting the league schedule. But there are some benefits to this. To start with, the players will not have the malaise of a full season of football behind them and barring injuries will be entering the tournament match fit.
It also means that they won’t be playing in extreme weather conditions, with the average temperatures in Qatar topping 40 degrees as opposed to around 50 in the summer. Although far hotter than England, many players will have already trained and/or played in these temperatures throughout Europe. This is also great for travelling fans.
But the big questions are will it all matter come the end of the tournament where many English fans will be expecting the team to at least appear in the final.
The England team exited the Euros in 2021 after losing on penalties to Italy. Their form following the tournament was strong, going unbeaten in their world cup qualifiers, but in 2022 it has been a slightly different story. Despite winning their first two friendlies against Ivory Coast and Switzerland, they failed to win a single match in their Nations League.
Their winless run was capped off by an embarrassing 4-0 loss to Hungary. Whilst there were few positives to take from this, it must be said that manager Gareth Southgate was experimental in his team choices. After a long season, many players were rested in favour of players with fewer caps as Southgate looks to finalise his squad for the World Cup.
Southgate’s management style has split many fans, but his results have been very positive, bringing England to their first final since 1966. His insistence of a double pivot consisting of Declan Rice and Jordan Henderson frustrated many fans, with his defensive predisposition giving way to England’s bright attacking talent.
That attacking depth is strong indeed, with the likes of Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling, Jack Grealish, Bukayo Saka, Phil Foden, Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho all vying for a place in the starting 11. Many have accused Southgate of having ‘One hand on the break’, but again, his record speaks for itself.
World Cup odds currently have England at 13/2 to win the tournament, third favourites behind France and Brazil.
But how can they improve on their Euros performances? This is where Southgate’s tendency to defend may come in handy. Whilst many complain that he plays ‘negative’ football at times, he has built a defensively solid side. The team conceded just two goals in their European campaign last year with a clean sheet over Germany one of the highlights of their tournament. It is that same defensive rigidness that they are likely to rely on should they come up against the likes of Brazil and France, who also boast huge attacking talent such as Neymar, Karim Benzema and Kylian Mbappe. However, it is of course a slippery slope. You don’t win games without scoring and it is imperative that in these kinds of fixtures Southgate finds the right balance between defence and attack.
There is a worry that the former Middlesbrough boss is yet to have a clear vision of his starting 11 just a couple of months away from their first fixture. Whilst a lot of that comes down to a selection headache, which any manager would envy, there are questions around the likes of Jude Bellingham.
The Borussia Dortmund player has clear talent and looks destined to become one of the best in the world, but Southgate prefers experience over ability at times. This is where questions are asked over who starts in the midfield. Does he stick with Henderson, who has been a great servant for his country but is getting up there in age — or does he opt for Bellingham, who possesses all the talent in the world but will be put under immense pressure whilst sill only 19 years old.
There is no question that on paper, England have the ability to finally put 56 years of hurt to rest. With a ‘golden generation’ of talent at his behest, Gareth Southgate has all the tools available to him to triumph in Qatar. There are some big decisions to be made before England’s group opener against Iran on 21st November and England fans will be hoping they put their best foot forward on their way to greatness.