With less than a week to go until the World Cup in Russia, blind optimism is once again surrounding England after two solid performances in warm-up friendlies against Nigeria and Costa Rica. But in sharp contrast to previous tournaments, there’s genuine reason to be optimistic this time around – after failing to escape the group stages at the last World Cup and being dumped out of Euro 2016 by Iceland, things can only really get better for the Three Lions at major tournaments.
At the same time though, it’s clear Gareth Southgate has selected a squad with future tournaments in mind – this World Cup is essentially a testing ground and learning curve for developing talents like Tottenham’s Dele Alli and Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold. So, what does World Cup success really look like for England? Football FanCast’s writers give their verdicts below…
“Given the group England have and the fact that their potential last 16 opponents look beatable on paper, you would have to think that reaching the quarter-finals is a realistic aim for Southgate’s men. Fans would certainly be overjoyed if they do get that far, and it would have to be seen as a successful campaign if they were knocked out in the last eight considering the general youthfulnesss of the squad and some of the clear weaknesses they have in their team.”
“This is a young, likeable team that is easy to get behind so success really means showing what they can do on the big stage and not choking like they did at Euro 2016. Reaching the quarter finals – and even winning Group G – is not an unrealistic expectation given the nature of our draw and at that stage, this squad would be one game from etching their name into Three Lions history by emulating Italia 90…”
“Given how recent tournaments have panned out for England, not many would be surprised if they stumbled at the early hurdle. But on paper, Southgate has good enough players to reach the quarter-finals. I’m sure the ‘young team’ excuse will be at the ready if they fail, but there are Premier League champions and top-four finishers in that squad, so anything less than qualifying for the final eight (given the likely opposition) would be a disappointment.”
“In theory, England should have a relatively straightforward route to the quarter finals, but the Three Lions never like to make things easy. Considering how poor England have been in the past few tournaments, if Southgate manages to play free-flowing attacking football with players not feeling the weight of the shirt, then it could be considered a success regardless of how far we progress in the tournament.”
“For the team ranked 12th in the world, you’d probably say a last eight place. But the thing about basing success around results is the tiny margin for error: it’s one bad break and you’re gone. More likely, England will be judged on performances in the long run. A team keeping a dream alive and giving their nation hope will be remembered – like the Italia 90 side. A team drudging their way through a tournament will not – like almost every other Three Lions squad.”
“Looking at the groups, England have probably got one of the easiest paths to the quarter-finals in the competition, so getting to the last eight should be the absolute bare minimum. With Germany or Brazil likely to be the opponents at that stage though, anything beyond that should be considered a success. A lot will depend on performances as well. Southgate has to give young talents like Alli, Raheem Sterling and Marcus Rashford as much freedom as they have been given in the friendlies.”