World Cup Preview: England
Before beginning our World Cup 2018 preview for the English National team, let's play a small quiz (I can guarantee it's less boring than watching England play)
Q: Which European heavyweight has qualified for all but one World Cup in the last 28 years yet never reached the semifinals?
Q: Which football team's nation has the richest football league and the best training facilities for grooming the youth?
No cookies for guessing it right, it's our lovely protagonist, the English Football Team!
Before talking about the stalwarts, let's look at the man away from the field yet always in the spotlight.
On the outside, it feels like England had it pretty easy in the qualifiers with 8 wins and no losses out of 10 but the chaotic managerial situation could have badly complicated things for them.
After underwhelming performances at 3 international tournaments, Roy Hodgson was deemed unfit for the hot seat, some wondering if he was ever capable. Wikipedia still lists Sam Allardyce as the only England manager with 100% win record, a pathetic record to hold for a man who was dismissed very disgracefully.
The FA again pinned hopes on a homegrown manager, this time choosing the youth team coach Gareth Southgate to handle the overflowing pressure and criticism after Big Sam's dismissal.
Gareth Southgate has maintained his personality of being a man of few words as well as the tradition of England playing overly 'safe' football all through his reign. His belief of choosing players for their form and experience rather than their potential, for eg Jack Wilshere, is what has set him different from the previous managers.
Yet, the doubts about his ability as a tactician have meant that all the preparation and hopes for a better performance have been under the cloud.
Many question marks were raised over the selection of fringe players such as Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Jack Butland and John Stones in the final 23-man squad at the cost of seasoned campaigners such as Chris Smalling and Joe Hart.
It remains to be seen whether this utterly inexperienced group of players can perform at the world's biggest stage under a captain and a manager who have never held a trophy in their hands, or who have no 'winning mentality' as Jose Mourinho would argue.
The squad can be seen as pretty average by a non-Premier League fan, but since the top English players don't play anywhere else in Europe, that is quite understandable. The squad does have some game changers such as Harry Kane, Dele Alli, Raheem Sterling and Kyle Walker but the sad part is that they are the only big names there in the 23-man squad.
The national team has faced a severe goalkeeping condition ever since Pep Guardiola decided to freeze Joe Hart, but it served as an eye opener since his long tenure as the no.1 for the senior team can be summarized as pretty average.
This unlikely event gave goalkeepers such as Jack Butland and Jordan Pickford the opportunity to stamp their authority as the 'relatively' good goalkeepers. Nick Pope was rewarded for his astounding performances for Burnley but he's expected to be the third choice in Russia.
England has never been short of world-class defenders with the likes of Rio Ferdinand and Gary Neville plying their trade for The Three Lions but this time, the defending situation is very dicey, to say the least.
England look woefully short of a solid centre-back partnership. Gary Cahill and John Stones had to warm the bench for the major part of the season and Jones has continued his struggle with injury this term too.
Harry Maguire has performed well throughout the campaign but isn't proven at the big stage. The full backs look comparatively better as Kyle Walker, Kieran Trippier and Ashley Young come on the back of good seasons with their respective clubs. But mark my words, if the midfielders don't, the defenders will surely let England down at the World Cup.
Coming to the midfielders, to put it in simple words, England need a miracle to get something out of a group of players that just don't look good on paper. Jordan Henderson and Eric Dier are expected to form a shield in front of the inexperienced back line while the inconsistent Jesse Lingard's high work rate can see him start as the no. 10 behind the striker.
The most surprising pick of the squad, Ruben Loftus-Cheek can fulfil the potential he has shown at Crystal Palace this season, while Dele Alli looks to be in a straight competition with Lingard for the no. 10 place, although his versatility can see him shift to other positions as well.
Harry Kane headlines a group of enthralling forwards who can light up the tournament. Kane, even after losing out on the golden boot, has been as good as ever but all eyes are on Raheem Sterling, who is coming at the back of his most fruitful season and can prove to be the real game changer for England.
Marcus Rashford will look to occupy the space on the left while Jamie Vardy and Danny Welbeck are good enough substitutes to exploit small openings when the opponents' legs tire out.
Gareth Southgate looks like he'll continue with the 3-4-2-1 formation with Kyle Walker as the right back in a back three. Keiran Trippier can be given more freedom to whip in delightful crosses from the right with Ashley Young complementing him from the left.
Rashford, Sterling and Kane can form a formidable front 3 with fearsome pace and will rely on the distribution from central midfield. Henderson, Alli and Dier can complete the midfield to give England both steel and creative flair required to win the World Cup.
"Buzzing for England to start the World Cup with a 1-0 win against Tunisia!"
Such tweets all but sum up people's expectation from the team but I personally believe that The Three Lions can punch above their weight. Barring a delicious clash with Belgium, a draw in the other two games can complicate things early for the English.
A favourable draw in the knockouts can see them find a place in the quarter-finals, but after that, their chances look bleak.
All the analysis aside, every Premier League fan secretly dreams of a good English performance at international tournaments (Oh come on, they seriously do!). With me being no exception,
Let's go England, Win it for us!Published 30 May 2018, 15:20 IST