Football nearly came home at Euro 2020. England’s men’s team were just a few missed shots away from lifting their first major international trophy in 55 years. Italy eventually prevailed and the Three Lions once again left Wembley Stadium in London empty-handed.
Although the end result was disappointing, Gareth Southgate’s side really came into their own in this tournament. The football wasn’t always stylish, but the team went 480 minutes without allowing a goal. Still, the heartbreak of the finale won’t be soon forgotten. This English team was so close to glory that they could taste it.
The crushing defeat is not new for this team either. The 2018 World Cup provided a strong dose in the semi-final against Croatia, when Mario Mandžukić’s 109th-minute winner sent England into the game for third place (a game they would ultimately lose).
The English, meanwhile, ended the country’s major drought by winning the European Championship earlier this year. The men showed more promise in qualifying, remaining unbeaten in 10 matches and beating their opponents 39–2. But the failure in the UEFA Nations League – relegation to League B after a 0-3-3 with just four goals scored – drew more groans from fans who have seen the story too often. Can the England men follow the women’s lead, or will this be another tournament of angst for a team whose sum of its parts failed to add to the trophy success?
Group B schedule (all times Eastern)
– Iran, November 21, 8 a.m.
– United States, November 25, 2 p.m.
– Wales, November 29, 2 p.m.
Gareth Southgatehired in November 2016
Players to watch
Harry Kane, striker
Kane is as prolific as they come in front of goal, and he leads Wayne Rooney by two goals for England’s all-time record (53). He can kick the ball from any angle, play precise passes into the build-up and finish mercilessly from inside the box. The Tottenham man will also want to put aside the lingering whispers of the 2018 World Cup, where he Most likely could have squared it off Raheem Sterling for what would have been a key semi-final goal.
Raheem Sterling, winger
Now at Chelsea, his third stop on his Premier League ‘Big Six’ tour, Sterling will make his third World Cup appearance aged just 27. If he has always contributed to the Three Lions (19 goals and 21 assists in 76 games), he has yet to score in nine World Cup games. The four-time Premier League winner is still capable of producing electrifying performances and will be a tough task for any Group B defence.
Declan Rice, midfielder
Rice is part of the engine that drives this England team forward, emerging as a fixture in Southgate’s side over the past two years. The 23-year-old does all the necessary defensive dirty work that helped this team keep 19 clean sheets in 27 appearances in last year’s Euro and World Cup qualifiers.
Candidate in small groups
Phil Foden, attacking midfielder/striker
Foden didn’t play much in the team’s run to Euro 2020 but he played a much bigger role in World Cup qualifying, leading the way with four assists. He can play on either side of the pitch and is usually part of Southgate’s squad as a wide midfielder or a winger.
The 22-year-old played for Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City last season and has benefited greatly from playing alongside Erling Haaland during this campaign. Prior to Haaland’s arrival, he most often played as a wide striker in a system with no real striker, taking advantage of his talismanic manager’s structured style by living in the half-spaces between opposing centre-backs and wide defenders. Foden will be looking to bring a breath of creative fresh air, whether for a midfield that typically includes defensive-minded players or on the front line led by Kane.
Nicknamed ‘Stockport Messi’ by overzealous City fans, he is incredibly technically gifted at working in tight areas of midfield and in the attacking third. His starring role could be off the bench as Southgate heavily favored Chelsea counterpart Mason Mount during the Euros. But expect Foden to provide an extra creative spark if the goal scoring dries up.
world cup history
– 16th appearance
– Last appearance: 2018 (Fourth place)
– Best result: Champion in 1966
Outlook and expectations
England’s World Cup results have always pitted the individual against the collective, cohorts of players against cohesive teams. One of the biggest producers of footballing talent in the world has always struggled to live up to his high expectations. Perhaps one of the most talented national teams of all time, led by Frank Lampard, David Beckham, Rooney and other legends, has failed to even reach a semi-final in its two races in World Cup. Then the 2018 race coupled with last year’s Euros provided both a silver lining and a familiar, sour ending.
England should have few problems with Group B. But the last time he was paired in a group with the United States, things turned sour when the Americans pulled off a 1–1 draw. The Three Lions were then crushed 4-1 by Germany in the round of 16.
This team is not without flaws. Goalkeeper Jordan Pickford, a top player in the Euro 2020 race, hasn’t been on form at club level for some time, nor have centre-backs Harry Maguire and John Stones. Right-back Reece James is injured, while Kyle Walker and Kalvin Phillips were injured in the build-up and lack fitness. Southgate’s style was sorely lacking in creativity in the recent UEFA Nations League failure. Of course, the lineups used in this competition will differ greatly from those used in Qatar, and these games have largely been played reluctantly by players following a long season and in the middle of a new one. But no team wants to stumble when entering their most important competition.
Anything less than a race to the semi-finals and would be synonymous with disappointment. Anything less than a dominating performance in the group stage would spell disaster. England fans are tired of waiting for their men’s team to make the final leap.
World Cup team
GUARDIANS: Jordan Pickford (Everton), Nick Pope (Newcastle), Aaron Ramsdale (Arsenal)
DEFENDERS: Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool), Conor Coady (Everton), Eric Dier (Tottenham), Harry Maguire (Manchester United), Luke Shaw (Manchester United), John Stones (Manchester City), Kieran Trippier (Newcastle), Kyle Walker (Manchester City), Ben White (Arsenal)
MIDFIELDSJude Bellingham (Borussia Dortmund), Conor Gallagher (Chelsea), Jordan Henderson (Liverpool), Mason Mount (Chelsea), Kalvin Phillips (Manchester City), Declan Rice (West Ham)
FORWARDERS: Phil Foden (Manchester City), Jack Grealish (Manchester City), Harry Kane (Tottenham), James Maddison (Leicester City), Marcus Rashford (Manchester United), Bukayo Saka (Arsenal), Raheem Sterling (Chelsea), Callum Wilson ( Newcastle)
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