As England gear up for their 2022 World Cup campaign, anticipation is building ahead of international football’s biggest competition. Having come within touching distance of the final in Russia in 2018, narrowly losing in extra-time to Croatia, the Three Lions restored faith in their country. Last summer was more of the same, as they made it to the final of the rescheduled European Championships, but again, fell short at the final hurdle after Italy beat them on penalties.
Now we arrive at Qatar and England are at a crossroads. Months of inconsistency has resulted in Nations League relegation and a loss of trust in manager Gareth Southgate. The man that made a nation believe has begun to receive some doubt in his system, with his tactics seen as overly negative given the abundance of attacking talent in the squad. Hardly an ideal situation heading into a tournament that takes place right in the middle of the domestic season.
England are being tipped as one of the favourites for the competition from outsiders, but amongst the likes of Brazil and reigning champions France, you wonder if they have enough to go all the way in the Middle East. Beginning their group stage with Iran, one would think the Three Lions have enough quality to snatch all three points, and looking at England v USA betting, Southgate’s side could go into their final group match against Wales with a 100% record — easing the pressure on a supposed ‘Battle of Britain’
But Southgate’s omissions from his 26-man squad could prove to be decisive. He’s left experienced players at home at it could lead to his undoing in the latter rounds. There were several big names who missed out on the Three Lions squad, when they would have plenty to offer in Qatar.
Those that watch the Serie A sparingly would only have seen Fikayo Tomori from his Champions League disaster-class against former side Chelsea, where he was brandished with a red card. That is not a true representation of the centre-back’s class though, with the 24-year-old emerging as one of the best defenders in Italy since joining AC Milan last season.
Having won the league in his maiden campaign, Tomori would have provided elegance and class to England’s back-line, playing in a different culture would make him better suited to international football. Comfortable in the back-three Southgate incorporates, it is a surprise he’s not on the plane.
Ivan Toney is another that has more than justified his selection at Brentford. A consistent goal scorer in the Premier League, Toney is perhaps the most reliable penalty taker in the country, and his performances earnt him a call-up to the earlier squads in September, although he didn’t play a minute.
You get the sense that if England exit another shoot-out, it will be Southgate that receives the backlash for selecting the likes of Kalvin Phillips and Conor Coady, who have hardly featured for their respective club sides this season.
England squad in full:
Goalkeepers: Jordan Pickford (Everton), Aaron Ramsdale (Arsenal), Nick Pope (Newcastle).
Defenders: Kieran Trippier (Newcastle), Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool), Kyle Walker (Man City), Benjamin White (Arsenal), Harry Maguire (Man Utd), John Stones (Man City), Eric Dier (Tottenham), Conor Coady (Everton, on loan from Wolves), Luke Shaw (Man Utd).
Midfielders: Declan Rice (West Ham), Jude Bellingham (Borussia Dortmund), Kalvin Phillips (Man City), Jordan Henderson (Liverpool), Conor Gallagher (Chelsea), Mason Mount (Chelsea).
Forwards: Harry Kane (Tottenham), Callum Wilson (Newcastle), Marcus Rashford (Man Utd), Raheem Sterling (Chelsea), Bukayo Saka (Arsenal), Phil Foden (Man City), Jack Grealish (Man City), James Maddison (Leicester City).