The four-year cycle has come back around. After the juggernauts of world football stuttered out of the blocks in Russia, Spain, Argentina, Germany and Brazil all failing to win, it is the turn of England against Tunisia tonight in Volgograd.
Expectations lowered after numerous miserable tournaments, a squad of tender age but quality not to be underestimated and a manager who is dealing with the palaver like it’s second nature.
Gareth Southgate has his doubters and his credentials don’t match up to earn him the role of England manager, but you must credit him with how he’s managing a hungry, determined squad by relieving the weight off their shoulders. From the inexplicable stories on Raheem Sterling to the questions over style of play, formations and bringing the best out of Harry Kane?
Southgate has been level headed and brought fresh optimism to fans when talking about the English national team. He was frank when it came to stating racism is still a problem in this country, something which will go a long way to reassuring players and fans a like that it is not ignored at the highest level. Two weeks ago, Southgate made it compulsory for all 23 players to be available for media in a ‘Superbowl’ like event, revolutionary in this country.
The former Middlesbrough and England U21 boss has grown into the role as time has gone on and with his biggest game in charge on the horizon, he’ll be sipping a cup of tea and relaxing. Southgate was part of the most revered England side since 1966, the Euro 96 team which agonisingly lost in the semi-finals, he would miss a decisive penalty in the shoot-out with Germany. This exemplifies his experience and knowledge of the game which he can pass on to his squad.
Yet, Southgate could be the best manager in the world, will the players finally play with freedom and show the passion we all desire from players representing England? Well the signs are there, positivity is the best it’s been for years from our point of view and camaraderie is clear to see, refreshing from the days of separate dinner tables and tension between domestic rivals.
England’s best tactic is to utilise the pace and skill they possess in attack, relieve the defence from as much pressure as possible as it is a weak point. As a centre half, there is tutoring that can be given by Southgate with the risk that John Stones isn’t at his sharpest after injury with Manchester City. Going forwards England are arguably one of the best in the tournament.
The leading man, the captain and world class spearhead, Harry Kane can win the Golden Boot. This is his chance to prove his pedigree and deliver at a tournament for England, there’s no doubting he has all the confidence to do that. With a supporting cast of Sterling, Dele Alli and Jesse Lingard set to start tonight, it breathes dynamism, pace and goals.
The pressure is off this year, all we want is for an England team to play with freedom, to look like they thrive playing on the biggest stage for our national team. In a group where qualification should be attained, from their onwards it’s a lottery, we’ve seen already the unpredictability at this level with Mexico’s heroics.
Say it quietly, but Football could be coming home!