England have hardly had a spectacular international football record in recent years. They were knocked out in the group stages of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil and suffered a disappointing loss against Iceland in Euro 2016. Do they have a chance of lifting the 2018 World Cup in Russia?
The good news is England is looking set for qualification, and everything in the remaining qualifiers should be pretty routine. The team currently sits at the top of their group and are blessed with entirely reasonable fixtures for the final four games in September and October. They will play Malta away, Slovakia and Slovenia at home, and finally, Lithuania away. They would have to mess up pretty badly to not qualify at this stage.
Yet with 12 months to go, England are not looking promising as a fully functional and unified team. They lack the finesse of some of the usual suspects like France and Germany. Nothing shows this better than their recent friendly game against Les Bleus in mid-June. It was only a friendly, but the game was a telling sign that they can’t seem to hold pace against the greats.
France finished the game 3-2 up, despite Raphaël Varane being sent off within minutes of the second half restart, leaving them down to 1o for much of the game. France were also missing key players like strikers Antoine Griezmann and Alexandre Lacazette. England couldn’t quite keep up with the movement and imagination of the French team, and the message was clear for Gareth Southgate: the new manager has a lot of work to do before the World Cup starts next year.
Other recent results from England seem to tell a mixed story. On the one hand, they lost out in friendlies against France and Germany, as well as nearly slipping to a shock defeat against Scotland in the qualifiers before Harry Kane equalised in the 93rd minute. England’s easy victories have come against relatively breezy sides in Lithuania, Scotland and Malta.
The results seem to reflect a typical outcome for the England side in the past few years. Qualification has come easy for the team. For the 2014 World Cup, they didn’t lose a qualifying game but were abruptly destroyed by teams like Italy and Uruguay in the group stages. For the Euro qualifiers they didn’t lose a game in all 10 qualifiers, but then crumbled under pressure against Iceland.
Like in their recent friendlies, England seem to have no problem until they are confronted by more serious competition — the pressures of latter stages and of greater teams. This is likely to be their downfall in the 2018 World Cup, and the reason why they only have around 33/1 – 50/1 odds of winning. England have much better chances of taking home the UK Golf Open, which has Justin Rose currently at 20/1 on BetStars.
It’s not all bad for England, though. Gareth Southgate seems to be taking a more realistic approach to the management of the team after taking over from Sam Allardyce. He won’t be changing too much compared to Roy Hodgson’s European Championship, but he can expect solid performances from the brilliant Harry Kane, who is sure to be long-term captain of the team, as well as exciting contributions from talents like Adam Lallana and Dele Alli.
There are more likely teams to win than England. France, Germany and Brazil are all looking strong, as are Spain and Belgium, Uruguay and even Argentina. Only time will tell as the qualifiers wrap up in September and October, and the World Cup begins next year.