Are England Going Into the World Cup Underrated?

January 12, 2018
Are England Going Into the World Cup Underrated?
The 2018 World Cup kicks off in Russia this June, and yet again England fans’ hopes and dreams are starting to develop as the tournament looms nearer.  It’s always the same old story. We as England fans spend the years between competitions moaning and begrudging our side. We watch it evolve into the same creature time and time again and to quote Mike Bassett: England Manager “England will be playing Four, Four F*****g Two”.  But then something turns your head, you hear Gareth Southgate is taking a risk, bringing the youth up with him. Your ears prick up. Neighbours start draping St. George’s flags proudly over their windows. And before you know it you’re listening to Three Lions on repeat and World Cup mania has taken over.  Season-long rivalries are put to rest as the first goal of the tournament is scored and you start to wonder - could it finally be our year?
We’re all eager to see if Harry Kane is finally ready to be deployed as our number one weapon and be England’s international poster boy.  Harry Kane finished 2017 as the top scorer in Europe’s top five leagues, beating Ronaldo and Messi. This can only be good news for England’s World Cup hopes, as a confident and competent striker has so often been what England has lacked. 
It’s an exciting period because the squad is mostly rid of ‘golden generation’ players like Wayne Rooney and Frank Lampard. Whilst we can look back with some sentimentality to these times the fact of the matter is they achieved nothing and they were beginning to take up squad places with their names only. This younger batch of players are now free to play in their best positions instead of warming the bench.

People will argue that you need experience in a World Cup team but that echoes Alan Hansen’s remorseful 1997 comments about not winning anything with kids and frankly, we haven’t had any success with the experienced players.  I think Gareth Southgate should seriously consider resting Gary Cahill as he is so often at fault in the league. Understandably such a notion is controversial as Cahill is currently vice-captain but it could be for the greater good. 
England have been drawn against perpetual dark horses Belgium, World Cup debutants Panama, and Tunisia, who have never made it out of the group stages. This is a reasonable and relatively manageable group for England to have found themselves in. Obviously, the name that sticks out there is Belgium. Belgium are currently ranked fifth in the world, slightly intimidating in comparison to England’s 15th place. Though, as we are well aware, ranking doesn’t always mean everything. England’s infamous defeat to clap-happy Iceland in Euro 2016 is just one example that rings a little too close to home. 
However, England can feel relieved that they managed to avoid drawing a truly big team like Germany. On the contrary, Belgium is almost old hat, English Premier League players will be so used to facing or even working with members of the Belgium national team by now that it must remove some of the nerves. With a team comprising of Chelsea’s Thibault Courtois, Manchester City’s Kevin de Bruyne and Manchester United’s Romelu Lukaku (to name but a few) the squad sheet already reads like a Premier League supergroup. Impressive, yes. Unbeatable, no. 
For the second consecutive campaign, England managed to qualify for this year’s competition on an unbeaten streak, seeing them top the group ahead of Slovakia and Scotland. This is no small feat and it would be great if for once success in the qualification process could translate into a humble quarter-final draw before bowing out to the Germans on penalties. Nobody expects England to win, least of all Alan Shearer, BBC pundit and our last prolific striker, who has come out and said that this won’t be their year. One wonders if this could all be beneficial to the team camp as it really knocks the pressure off if you’re just seeing what you can get from the competition. In actuality, England are probably thinking they just want to make it out of the mental mind block of the group stages and then they’ll see where it goes from there. Knockout games can be so unpredictable and in the most recent major tournament, we saw Portugal take home the title after not having won a game in the preliminary 90 minutes. That’s kind of outrageous and should fill smaller sides with positivity. 
As an England fan, it’s difficult not to shroud yourself in the pessimism of yet another failed international campaign. These kids though, they are filled with hope. They still believe, even if we don’t. A player is not going to walk out onto the pitch fretting about how well rated the opposition are, they’ll be thinking about the 90 minutes they’ve been given to play the game. And especially in a knockout situation, anything can happen in those two halves; if you’ll pardon the cliché.  Sun Bets currently have England at 16/1, 7th favourite to win the World Cup, so the odds aren’t overly in our favour. But wouldn’t it be great?

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