By Jack Hayhurst
Editor’s note: This is an opinion piece and views expressed in this article are not necessarily reflective of The Beehive or The Beehive’s associated writers.
The World Cup is arguably the biggest sporting event and, taking place every four years, brings excitement to many worldwide. However, this year’s World Cup is particularly fascinating. With many small nations looking to defy the odds and with pressure mounting on the more successful footballing nations to return the trophy back to their homelands, it will certainly be one of the most gripping and competitive World Cups we have ever witnessed, but can England win the notorious trophy for the first time since 1966?
England undoubtedly have their best squad since the 2006 World Cup in Germany, where they were knocked out on penalties by Portugal following a red card for Wayne Rooney and an infamous wink from then Manchester United teammate Cristiano Ronaldo. This defeat was almost as heartbreaking as the 1990 semi-final loss to West Germany, yet this constant disappointment has resulted in a lack of belief amongst both the England fans and players for the past 10 years. The shocking 2-1 defeat at the 2016 European Championships to the least populous nation in the tournament was a sheer embarrassment, and prior to this year’s World Cup England’s chances were dismissed by the majority of the country.
England have been knocked out on penalties by Germany twice – in 1990 (pictured) and in 1996
In recent weeks, however, impressive displays from the England team seem to have reignited the belief that they could indeed progress far into the competition. Surely winning the World Cup would be too much to ask, yet there are still some optimistic fans who believe that their beloved nation could be victorious in their attempt to lift the trophy. In a recent survey, 7% of England supporters believe that their team will win the tournament this year, with a further 19% believing that they will win it during the next 20 years. From these stats there is still clearly a slight lack of optimism, with many simply expecting England to quickly return from Russia, yet this is an improvement to the mere 4% who expected England to lift the trophy during the last World Cup in Brazil.
There is a sense of unity amongst the England players which is likely to be beneficial during difficult situations, and the apparent absence of club rivalries should surely improve the chemistry in the squad. The 23-man squad also consists of very young, talented players, and with an average age of 26 years old – the second youngest average age in the competition – we should expect flair and exciting football. There is also much pace amongst the attackers, with the exception of Harry Kane, and midfield instigators will look to feed the ball through any gaps in the opposition defence for players such as Marcus Rashford or Jamie Vardy to run on to.
Marcus Rashford’s inconsistency this season for Manchester United and England has been a worry for both sets of fans, yet his superb display in a recent friendly against Costa Rica was particularly encouraging. Despite Harry Kane’s 41 goals in all competitions for Tottenham last season, Rashford could be the key to England’s road to success. With both blistering pace and an eye for goal, the Manchester United forward is a threat to opposition defences, and when he is at the peak of his game there are very few better than him in England. Manchester United teammate Jesse Lingard is also a key man for the Three Lions this summer. Having enjoyed a remarkable campaign for his club last season, the 25 year old’s rapid improvement under Jose Mourinho has been very beneficial to both Manchester United and England, and he scored his first goal for his nation during a friendly against the Netherlands in March. His sheer stamina and commitment will be vital for this England team, who regularly press opposition defenders.
Jesse Lingard scored 13 goals in 48 appearances for Manchester United last season
After having an ageing defence for the past decade, the defensive problem no longer appears to be a concern. Harry Maguire has been a revelation for Leicester City following his move from Hull in 2017, possessing both strength and a great height advantage which are the most important attributes for a central defender. He is also very comfortable on the ball and is able to play out from the back, much to the pleasure of manager Gareth Southgate. Southgate’s decision to bring Gary Cahill was a very good one as the 32 year old Centre-back provides vital experience with his 55 international caps, despite rarely featuring for Antonio Conte’s Chelsea side last season. He is England’s most capped player, and surely others will benefit from his experience.
England’s squad is arguably the most talented since the Golden Generation, yet the lack of experience could perhaps repeat the heartbreaking fate of previous international tournaments – a talented England team once again not living up to their expectations. Despite an inward feeling of hope, most England fans are still outwardly showing little signs of optimism and are cautious not to get too excited or captivated about their nation’s chances. It is possible that England can indeed win the World Cup, but it will not be easy.