After the World Cup, all the usual things happened when a highly successful team returns home from a glorious summer tournament. The queues for autographs and selfies in supermarkets; the applause for players from rival supporters in the Premier League; the Golden Boot-winning captain forced to clarify his position on the debate around pain relief in childbirth. Harry Kane eventually had to release a statement saying, in his opinion, women could give birth however they liked, after walking blindly into the most unlikely storm for tweeting that he was proud of his fiancée, Kate Goodland, for having a water birth “with no pain relief “. Such is 2018.
Kane, like the rest of us, is now trying to get his head around Uefa’s attempt to revamp qualification for the Euros by introducing the Nations League. It is headache-inducingly hard to understand. “It’s a competition that a few people are confused about,” Kane said. “But it’s a chance to win a trophy with the national team. Maybe once it’s been here for 20 years and you were the first winners of it, it might be a respected big tournament. We have to take it as a serious tournament which we’re lifting a trophy with.”
While it may have to wait two decades to be taken seriously, in the immediate it puts Gareth Southgate’s side against Spain today, and Croatia during the next international break, providing an early indication of whether Russia was the dawn of a new era or – really – only down to a pretty lucky draw.
Was World Cup run down to luck?
England were a wonderful story but they only beat Tunisia (in stoppage time), Panama (basically like beating a canal), Colombia (on penalties) and Sweden (that was a consummate performance, to be fair). The only truly decent sides they faced were Belgium, against whom they lost twice, and Croatia.
Southgate happily admits this is an issue. England beat Holland in a friendly in March, although a Holland team at a very low ebb, and they’ve become really good at drawing with big teams, including Brazil, Germany and Italy in the past year.
“That’s the one thing from the summer we didn’t do, that’s got to be the aim,” Southgate said yesterday. “To be up there, consistently, in these tournaments you’re going to have to beat these nations. It’ll be a big test. Spain are very good, but if we do win it it’ll give us huge belief going forward.”
Strength in depth
The new Uefa competition did not prevent Germany versus France last week being described as a slightly more competitive friendly than usual, and Spain’s visit to Wembley is already beginning to sound like some kind exhibition match. Kane will be presented with his Golden Boot. “I’ve still not seen it,” Kane said. “Not had it. I didn’t know how it was going to get to me. We weren’t there for the final, so I wasn’t sure how it was going to be delivered.”
Then he plans on wearing a pair of golden boots, the sort of decision which, had it been made by a Sunday league striker, would’ve likely resulted in a leg-breaking challenge dished out the first time he touched the ball.
Southgate has to be credited that, for the first time in a long time, good players are turning up to training with the national team and are not walking into the team. Two examples are defenders Joe Gomez and Trent Alexander-Arnold who have been exceptional in Liverpool’s start to the season, conceding once in four games, but will have to wait their turn behind Kieran Trippier, the best right-back at the World Cup, and England’s back three of Kyle Walker, John Stones and Harry Maguire.
England must move forward
As England’s manager has pointed out, opponents Spain have had three or four world-class players for almost every position in recent times. Southgate has a way to go before that is a reality but, if the World Cup showing is built upon, it could be one day.
“For us now the summer is finished and it’s about the next step and the next challenges,” Southgate said. “Sport doesn’t stand still for anybody. You’ve got to move forward, continually evolve, increase that competition. I know the players are of the same mentality, they’re all of an age where what’s next is the most important thing.”
Some things haven’t changed much, disappointingly. England’s manager pummelled into his players again and again and again and again that they were unlikely to be selected if they were not playing for their football clubs. So Ruben Loftus-Cheek opted not to join Crystal Palace, for whom he played 22 times last season on loan to earn a place in the squad that went to Russia. This season he has decided to stay at Chelsea, where he has come on twice this season.
Isn’t there a saying about doing the same thing over and over again? We have a scenario where two attacking players, Raheem Sterling and Adam Lallana, withdrew from this current England squad due to injury yet Loftus-Cheek is not an obvious replacement for either.
Although perhaps even Southgate is experiencing some kind of altitude sickness after the heady heights reached in Russia, losing two forward players during the last week, then calling up a fourth goalkeeper, uncapped Fulham 26-year-old Marcus Bettinelli. Which will be a massive relief should the three other goalkeepers get injured against Spain or Switzerland.
Source : https://inews.co.uk/sport/football/england-vs-spain-preview-analysis-challenge-best-teams-world/