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Football News: England's prospects ahead of the World Cup

England's prospects ahead of the World Cup
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We're rolling towards the start of the World Cup and, as always, people are having their say, 'The worst England squad in years', 'they won't get out of the group stage' and 'who cares about the England team?', I try and ignore this chatter as it's not really important to me. I'm an England fan, not an England fan as long as they're good. So what am I thinking about ahead of the summer?

The Manager - No one was excited when Southgate was given the job, practically by default, in 2016. He was an average to poor manager for Middlesbrough and was unremarkable for the England U-21s. Under him the England senior team have been functional but largely lacking in inspiration or excitement but there are a couple of things I like about him. Southgate's job with the u-21s was to develop talent to support future senior success, this promoted a forward thinking attitude that Southgate has continued with the senior team.

He's tried to define an England style that the entire national setup can subscribe to which gives a sense of organisation that England have never before shown. It may be by necessity but his squads have been far more inclusive than his predecessors and there's a feeling that if you're playing well you'll get a chance to prove yourself with the England team although it's a shame that certain fading lights are still involved (most notably Hart and Welbeck) . This has contributed to a sense of progress under his reign (although results don't really support that) that has created, if not optimism, a sense that England can be better than they have been.

The Squad - There's little doubt that the current England squad has few players that will really scare the opposition, Harry Kane will be the main exception but he can't win the Cup on his own. Beyond him there is a smattering of good players, Alli, Sterling, Rashford, Henderson, Wilshire and Stones are all good enough for the world stage but the rest of the squad is filled with honest hard workers rather than great talents.

My question is how much of a problem this really is? With Rooney out of the picture the 'Golden Generation' has finally passed on and they achieved next to nothing, in the mean time teams with a lot less individual talent have achieved a lot more. Having the best players is obviously important but equally important is getting the eleven players on the pitch to work well together and that's something England have failed to do consistently over the past decade. If Southgate can somehow get his 7/10 squad to play at 90% of its capability then England will surprise a few people this summer.

Form - This is the big problem, England aren't playing at 90%, I'd be generous if I said they were playing at 70%. England's qualification campaign was efficient but less illustrious that their 2016 campaign and we all remember how that panned out. Furthermore England haven't won a friendly since Hodgson was in charge. If there's any cause for optimism it's that England have been playing illustrious opposition and haven't been humiliated.

Creditable home draws against Germany, Spain and Brazil have been joined by narrow away losses in France and Germany, it suggests that England is capable of more than we've seen these last two years. Good performances against the Dutch and Italians this week would do wonders to improving the mood around the country.

Ambition - My feeling is that the Quarter Finals should be the minimum target for every tournament England enters and the negativity around the camp shouldn't change that. To achieve that we need to get out of the group which is a long way from certain. On paper we're the second best team but an England playing well could just as easily top the group as a bad England could come bottom. Tunisia is the key game, if we can beat them then I'd be confident of rolling Panama and that would mean we don't need a result against Belgium.

I'm not scared of Belgium (which reminds me of England 15 years ago) but if we need to beat them then it's almost inevitable we'd fold under the pressure. If we do make it out of the group then we'll play someone from Group H and none of Poland, Senegal, Columbia or Japan should expect to beat us (of course it doesn't mean they won't) . If we can make it to the Quarter Finals we'd most likely face Brazil or Germany which would probably end our tournament but I'd be satisfied with a run to the last 8.

Since we hit rock bottom under McLaren England have failed to put in a performance on the international stage that raises the nation and if I'm honest, I don't expect that to change in Russia. In the context of the situation a run to the Quarter Finals would be considered a success. England have spent the last few years talking about the future but with special things happening at every youth level a competent performance in Russia would reinforce that better things are to come.

Written by PutneyRed March 22 2018 12:59:51