World Cup 2018 – Relief From Villa?
With things turning into an absolute mess at Villa Park, it’s a blessed relief the World Cup has rocked up to provide some distraction. Let’s hope, then, that England at least do themselves justice with a decent showing at the tournament (PS – it’s a shame the Irish haven’t made it).
While we surely can’t expect much better than a run to the quarter-finals – we’ve only gone one better than that since winning the thing in 1966 and outright odds at williamhill.com and others puts us outside the main favourites to win – there are genuine hopes that England might deliver a series of performances that will entertain and lift everyone’s mood.
First things first, England must get out the group. On paper, it doesn’t look the most difficult and it’s certainly kinder than the 2014 draw, which pitched them against Italy and Uruguay, as well as minnows Costa Rica (who England failed to beat). Still, if history has taught us anything, it’s that England won’t have to easy. Let’s take a look at the Group G opponents:
The big hitters of the group, Belgium strolled through the qualification phase though their warm-up for the tournament hasn’t been ideal. There’s a fitness doubt over captain Vincent Kompany – when isn’t there – and coach Roberto Martinez may live to regret leaving out Radja Nainggolan and former Villa hero Christian Benteke. Still, they have an abundance of talent in their squad, headed by star men Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard.
It would be unwise to underestimate Tunisia, who are ranked the highest of the five African nations at this World Cup. They were unbeaten in qualifying and are quite experienced at this level; this will be their fifth appearance in the finals. They’ve come up against England before, losing 2-0 in the 1998 group stages (Shearer and Scholes scoring for Glenn Hoddle’s side back then).
Star man is likely to be Wahbi Khazri, the goalscoring winger who played well in fits and starts at Sunderland. Khazri has a fluid role for the national team, playing across the forward line.
Panama booked their place in Russia in dramatic fashion, with a 2-1 win over Costa Rica grabbing the last spot ahead of the USA. Their coach, Hernan Dario Gomez, has bags of experience, having taken Colombia to the 1998 World Cup and Ecuador to the tournament in 2002. They’re probably the outsiders of the group. However, England must be aware of their veterans, Luis Tejada and Blas Perez, who share the all-time goalscoring for Panama. Their star man is likely to be the influential midfield dynamo Gabriel Gomez.
The Knockout Stages
As an absolute minimum, England must surely qualify from their group and reach the knockout stages of the tournament – though this was an achievement beyond them in 2014 when they dropped out without winning a game. Providing England safely negotiate what is a kinder group, on paper, an opponent from Group H awaits them in the second round – one of Poland, Senegal, Colombia or Japan. If all goes to plan though, a tough quarter-final awaits. If England win Group G, the chances are they’ll meet Brazil in the last eight. If they finish runners-up, it’s likely to be Germany in the quarters.
Coach Gareth Southgate has fostered a positive spirit among the England squad, and there’s a rare feeling of calm in the camp. Seasoned England watchers might conclude that there’s much less hysteria and hyperbole heading into the tournament. Expectations seem well balanced.
More than that, England seem organised and focused. Southgate knows the formation he wants to play – a 3-5-2 set up which provides defensive stability and an overloading of the midfield area – and there are very few ‘big’ tactical decisions he needs to make. There’s little to no speculation about how England will line up and who’s going to play where.
The likelihood is that Jordan Pickford will get the nod as starting goalkeeper, just ahead of Jack Butland, while the back three will consist of Kyle Walker – continuing his emergence as a right-sided central defender instead of his traditional right wing-back slot, John Stones and Harry Maguire. Gary Cahill is an option, either ahead of Maguire or Walker, if Southgate chooses to move the Man City man to right wing-back.
Kieran Trippier and Danny Rose will probably start as wing-backs, with one of Jordan Henderson or Eric Dier as the defensive midfielder. The remaining two midfield places could be the most hotly contested, with Fabian Delph, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Dele Alli and Jesse Lingard all jostling for a place. Southgate is likely to mix and match, given the opponent, with the former pair more all-round midfielders and the latter two in the attacking vein.
The two forward places could be interesting. Harry Kane has the centre-forward role nailed down. Behind him, Raheem Sterling has probably done just enough to start though Marcus Rashford did his chances no harm with his goal in the friendly against Costa Rica. Jamie Vardy and Danny Welbeck will provide back-up options, but don’t be surprised if Southgate also considers Alli in an advanced No.10 style role for certain matches.
So, what can we expect from England? There’s a quiet confidence about this team but Southgate is realistic about their chances for a reason. A run to the quarter-finals looks probable. England will be difficult to beat, and will qualify from their group, but will find it tricky to beat the very best and it’s hard to see them overcome either Brazil or Germany in the last eight.
MOMS has three copies of the very handsome looking book True Colours International Football Kits (see MOMS Instagram moments for pics) to give away.
The recently released hardback book beautifully presents all the pictures and details of main kits in international footballing history for all the major nations.
Question: Who was the only member of the European Cup winning Aston Villa team to make the England squad for the World Cup in Spain in 1982? Clue
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