Southgate’s men are looking forward to World Cup glory



DOHA: England kicked off their World Cup campaign against Iran on Monday (today) desperate to make the last step after failing twice to win the country’s first major trophy in more than half a century.

Gareth Southgate’s players will feel relieved to finally focus on their football after so much preparation for the tournament has been spent mired in the ongoing controversy over host nation Qatar.

Having found themselves in the role of spokespersons on social issues ranging from the deaths of migrant workers during the construction of the World Cup to the criminalization of homosexuality in Qatar, the England national team have handled themselves flawlessly.

But now they have to carry that poise under pressure onto the pitch, starting their three matches in Group B established as one of the main contenders.

This lofty status is a stark contrast to six years ago, when Southgate took over with England in a period of decline after a series of indignities on and off the field.

A woeful exit from Euro 2016 against Iceland spelled a suitably frustrating end to Roy Hodgson’s reign in England, while his successor, Sam Allardyce, lasted just 67 days and one game before he was forced off after a newspaper sting.

Southgate set about rebuilding the squad, gradually bringing it back to the upper echelons of the international game.

The shock run to the semi-finals of the 2018 World Cup in Russia gave the coach credibility among previously skeptical players and fans.

He followed that impressive feat by leading England to their first major final in 55 years at the European Championships last year.

But while Southgate has made England a side to fear again, he has yet to deliver the trophies his football-obsessed country has been craving since Bobby Moore lifted the World Cup in 1966.

Their World Cup run ended four years ago with a 2-1 defeat of Croatia after England squandered the lead, while Italy recovered from an early Luke Shaw goal to beat Southgate’s men on penalties in the European Championship final at a stunned Wembley.

Not only did England lose when the stakes were highest, but in both matches they retreated into their shell with a conservative game plan that left Southgate vulnerable to criticism.

The England boss, who was hailed as a fashion icon for wearing a casual waistcoat at the recent World Cup, will be keen to end suspicions he cannot handle the pressure when it is at its most intense.

Unable to dispel accusations that his guarded approach is preventing players from expressing themselves fully, Southgate admitted there were lessons to be learned from England’s failures.

However, there were few signs of any tactical growth from the 52-year-old as England struggled to a dismal Nations League campaign ahead of the World Cup.

Having failed to win any of their past six matches, England arrived in Qatar in their worst form since 1993.

With tougher matches against the United States and Wales in Group B looming, England cannot afford a slow start against tiny Iran at the Khalifa International Stadium.

Remarkably, Southgate still retains the confidence of his players and Tottenham defender Eric Dier was quick to back his boss on Saturday.

“I think it’s crazy talk. People’s perceptions change quickly,” Dyer said when asked about criticism of the coach.

“We have to remember what England used to do before. He took England to a World Cup semi-final and a European Championship final. We’re talking about small margins that changed those results.

“It’s just the world we live in. But it’s crazy for him to be criticized after such a small run of results, given England’s performance. He’s at the forefront of that.”

“You have to keep things in perspective. I know it’s difficult these days because it’s all now, now, now. But look at where we were at Euro 2016 and before compared to where we are now.”


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