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World Cup 2018: Are England underachievers or are they just unlucky?

CONTRIBUTOR
Feature
700   //    18 May 2018, 14:47 IST

FIFA World Cup Final - England v West Germany
The England team after beating West Germany in the 1966 World Cup final

It has been more than 50 years since Bobby Moore led England to their first and only World Cup title. The team also had the likes of the legendary Bobby Charlton, the former Manchester United record goal scorer. Alf Ramsey's team was one of the best to play the beautiful game. The English supporters thought it was the start of something special and that the best is yet to come.

Fast forward 50 years and to say that the English football team has not fulfilled its true potential would be an understatement. England has been home to some of club football's finest players.

Yet they fail to do well when it comes to the international stage. The last time the three lions made it to the quarterfinals on the biggest stage of all was way back in 2006. The Englishmen also failed to qualify for the 2008 European Championship. It was not like they had any shortage of options to choose from. Just take a look at this lineup. Who wouldn't put their money on this team?

The
The England team at the 2004 European Championships

Let's take a look at what went wrong for England in the last 14 years.

Euro 2004 (Portugal)

At the 2004 Euros, a certain Mr. Wayne Rooney burst onto the scene. They had the likes of Michael Owen, Steven Gerrard, Paul Scholes and David Beckham but it was Rooney who stole the show. After a 1-2 loss in their opening fixture, England bounced back to win their two remaining group games.

Rooney found the back of the net four times. Britain’s brightest prospect was all set to lead England to their first European Championship but disaster struck when Rooney hobbled off the pitch against Portugal in the last eight. England bowed out on penalties.

Euro 2004: Portugal v England
A broken bone in his foot forced Rooney off against Portugal in the quarters

WORLD CUP 2006(GERMANY)

Sven-Goran Eriksson named a strong England squad for the 2006 World Cup in Germany. The English media said it was England's best chance to win football's biggest prize in years. 20-year-old Wayne Rooney was the center of attention once again.

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Now at Manchester United, the Englishman had the talent but did he have the right attitude to lead England to victory? The answer was a harsh NO. England faced Portugal in the last eight. Rooney made a reckless tackle on Ricardo Carvalho, forcing the referee to send him off.

He was also involved in a tussle with his then Manchester United teammate Cristiano Ronaldo. England went on to lose on penalties. Eriksson left after five years of underachievement.

Sport. Football. FIFA World Cup. Gelsenkirchen. 1st July 2006. Quarter Final. England 0 v Portugal 0
Rooney got sent off against Portugal for a reckless tackle on Ricardo Carvalho

Steve McClaren took over and just when you thought it couldn’t get worse for the Englishmen, the unthinkable happened. England failed to qualify for EURO 2008. Steve McClaren got the sack and in came Fabio Capello. Fabio Capello had a tough job at hand. He had to pick up a team which lacked confidence in their ability.

2010 World Cup (South Africa)

The first task at hand for Capello was to get England on the plane to South Africa. He did that with ease. England became one of the first teams to qualify and things were on the up. The onus was on Wayne Rooney, their top scorer in the qualifiers to take them to glory. Rooney scored 34 goals in the 2009-10 season taking on responsibility after the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo.

A recurring ankle injury hampered Rooney’s preparation for the World Cup. Fabio Capello decided to take an experienced line up to South Africa with the likes of Theo Walcott and Ashley Young missing out. Emile Heskey was a surprise inclusion. However, England's African safari was far from being a fairy tale.

England could only finish second in a group which was composed of the United States, Slovenia, and Algeria. The team got booed off the pitch after their dull 0-0 draw against Algeria. Rooney’s fitness was also in question. The Englishmen were on the plane home after a 1-4 thrashing at the hands of Germany, who were one of the favourites to win the World Cup.


This Robert Green mistake against the United States summed up England's campaign

2012 EURO (POLAND - UKRAINE)

Capello went out the door and in came Roy Hodgson. Hodgson was unique in his own way. He was known for the way he gave opportunities for youngsters to perform. Even though Rooney had a very good 2012, nobody gave England a chance at the Euros. England breezed through a tough group.

With Rooney also finding form, many began to wonder. Could this finally be their year? The answer, a quick NO. Just when you thought England had found the answer to their underachievement problems, Italy knocked them out on penalties. Yes, Penalties!


Who can forget this insane penalty by Andrea Pirlo to send England home.

2014 World Cup (Brazil)

Roy Hodgson named a very young squad for the 2014 World Cup bringing the average age of the team down, compared to the previous edition, from 29 to 26.6. Liverpool and Southampton had a very good 2013/14 season. Players from these clubs formed the heart of the squad.

The likes of Daniel Sturridge, Raheem Sterling, Jordan Henderson, Luke Shaw, Adam Lallana were in the form of their lives. The squad also composed of experienced campaigners like Wayne Rooney, Steven Gerrard, and Frank Lampard. The inexperience showed on the pitch as England lost their first two matches and got knocked out in the group stage. Different manager. Same result.

Uruguay v England: Group D - 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil
A Steven Gerrard slip gifted Uruguay the winning goal in England's second group match

2016 Euro (France)

With the likes of Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard hanging up their boots, Hodgson had a rebuilding job on his hands. However, he did not have any shortage of options. Dele Alli and Eric Dier came in. Up front, he had the likes of Harry Kane and Jamie Vardy.

Marcus Rashford who had just announced himself on the big stage was another option. Wayne Rooney retained his place as he still searched for his first piece of silverware with the national team. England was in a group pitted against Russia, Wales, and Slovakia.

England’s opening encounter against Romania saw them play some of the best football they played in years but it was worth only a point as Russia equalized late on. The inexperience was showing. England was not clinical in front of goal.

Kane did not look like the goal scoring beast he was with Spurs. In their second group game, Hodgson brought on Vardy for Kane. This was the turning point as England came back from a goal down to beat Wales. A goalless draw against Slovakia (more on that later) meant they qualified for the last 16 meant they faced minnows Iceland.

Yes! Iceland! England's horror show in international tournaments continued as they suffered elimination at the hands of Iceland. With this shock exit, Roy Hodgson departed. Can a manager be blamed for England's inconsistency? Take a look at England's stats in their last group game against Slovakia.


En
Slovakia vs England Group B match at Euro 2016

England managed to take 29 shots compared to Slovakia's 4 but did not even have 1 shot on target. Where was Harry Kane and Jamie Vardy when their country needed them the most?

In their knockout match against Iceland, Marcus Rashford had the highest number of dribbles. He came on in the 86th minute! This tells us a lot about the player’s ambition and willingness to take risks while going forward.

2018 WORLD CUP ( RUSSIA)

Gareth Southgate's appointment post-Sam Allardyce's resignation came as a shock to many. The Englishman has done a good job at the helm but he is going to face his biggest test yet. Having managed 16 games, Southgate holds a healthy 50% win record, having lost only twice. The former Middlesbrough manager has stuck to his usual players for the Russian adventure. Here is the squad :

Goalkeepers: Jordan Pickford, Jack Butland, Nick Pope

Defenders: Trent Alexander-Arnold, Kyle Walker, Kieran Tripper, Danny Rose, Harry Maguire, Phil Jones , John Stones, Gary Cahill

Midfielder: Jordan Henderson, Eric Dier, Dele Alli, Jesse Lingard, Ashley Young, Fabian Delph, Ruben Loftus-Cheek

Forwards: Raheem Sterling, Jamie Vardy, Harry Kane, Marcus Rashford, Danny Welbeck

Positives

This will be the first time in 14 years that England go to a major international tournament without their record goalscorer Wayne Rooney. There was a lot of expectations and controversy surrounding Rooney every time he played for England. Rooney’s retirement will come as a blessing in disguise for the Englishmen. The team will have a weight off their shoulders.

After losing out on the Premier League golden boot to a Mohammed Salah, Harry Kane will be raring to lead the line for England. Kane brushed aside all worries of his fitness after he scored a double in Tottenham's last game of the season.

It is not only Harry Kane who is in fine form, Jamie Vardy notched up an impressive 20 goals for Leicester this season. Manchester City man Raheem Sterling notched up 23 goals this season which is the most he has scored in any season.

The Manchester City number 7 is in the form of his life. The England manager has no shortage of attacking options with the likes of Dele Alli and Marcus Rashford. The key, however, will be how Southgate uses Jesse Lingard.

Lingard has stepped up for Manchester United this season, scoring goals when the team needed him most. Maybe Lingard is the answer to England’s attacking problems from the past. If there is one person to come good at the big stage that would be Jesse Lingard. Ashley Young is yet another player who has surpassed all expectations this season.

Many thought his Old Trafford career was over when Jose Mourinho took over. The winger has reinvented himself under the Special One, prompting Jose to leave Luke Shaw on the bench. He sticks to his man and gets the job done. Young’s experience will come in handy for England as they've had the habit of not closing out games in the past.

Crystal Palace v Tottenham Hotspur - Premier League
Following a dismal Euro 2016, all eyes will be on Harry Kane to deliver the goods

Concerns

Notable absentees from the England line-up are Jack Wilshere, Joe Hart and Chris Smalling. Gareth Southgate has decided to go with the inexperienced trio of Jordan Pickford, Nick Pope, and Jack Butland in goal. They have made a combined 9 appearances for England.

Who will he start? Pope has been in superb form this season. Pickford has been excellent too apart from the odd mistake or two which is forgiven considering he is only 24. Can he keep his nerve on the biggest stage of all?

Butland was a part of Stoke City's miserable 2017/18 campaign. It was not surprising that Southgate left out Hart as he had a miserable season on loan at West Ham. Jack Wilshere's absence, however, might be costly.

Choosing Ruben Loftus-Cheek over him is a gamble, to say the least. The man once dubbed the next Lionel Messi made 38 appearances for the Gunners this season. It was still not enough to get him a ticket to Russia.

After a strong end to the season, many expected Chris Smalling to get called up. Southgate, however, opting for the younger Harry Maguire. We all know Phil Jones is a really good defender but can he remain fit throughout the World Cup? These are just some of the few things that will be going through Southgate's head.

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