With just a matter of days remaining until the 2018 World Cup starts in Russia there is a sense of excitement building among football supporters across the globe.
This year’s tournament will be the largest international football competition in history, with a record 32 teams participating, and countries such as Brazil, Argentina, Germany, France and Spain are once again being touted among the favourites to win the competition.
But, what about England?
Recent history has indicated that the team are no longer one of the leading international sides in world football, as ruthlessly highlighted by their exit from Euro 2016 following an embarrassing defeat against Iceland. In fact, England have not won a match in a World Cup since 2006 and, quite rightly, expectations are not particularly high going into the tournament.
Here, The Boot Room provides three reasons why England fans should be optimistic about their team’s chances at the World Cup this summer.
In order to win a major international tournament you need to possess a prolific goal scorer and there is none better in the world right now than Tottenham Hotspur forward Harry Kane.
The 24-year-old has scored 135 goals at club level across all competitions over the previous four seasons and has emerged as the most prominent striker of his generation in England. Not since Alan Shearer has a forward produced such quality and consistency in front of goal over a prolonged period of time.
Quite simply, Kane guarantees goals.
Regardless of whether he has been actively involved in the game or is playing well you always fancy him to find the back of the net if half a chance arrives. He scores a wide range of goals and is equally as likely to finish from close range as he is to unleash a long-range thunderbolt.
At major international tournaments, when the difference between failure and success is so fine, a proven goal scorer could make all the difference.
A core group of talented young players
There were some raised eyebrows around the country when it was announced that the Football Association had appointed Gareth Southgate the permanent England manager.
The 47-year-old had performed well with the under 21 side and had steadied the ship somewhat after stepping into the senior team on a temporary basis following Sam Allardyce’s unsavoury departure. However, his failure at club level with Middlesbrough still remained at the foremost of many people’s memories.
Southgate has gradually developed a squad that is new, fresh and is built around a core group of young, talented individuals. Only five members of the team who are heading to Russia in the summer were involved in England’s previous World Cup campaign whilst senior figures, most notably Wayne Rooney and Joe Hart, have been gradually fazed out.
This new-look England should be a source of excitement. Harry Kane, Dele Alli, Raheem Sterling, Eric Dier, John Stones, Marcus Rashford, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Trent Alexander Arnold are all under the age of 24 and will bring pace, energy and enthusiasm. Furthermore, they are still all developing and have not reached their peak.
More importantly, many of these players will be unscarred from previous England campaigns at major international tournaments. These fresh attitudes and sense of fearlessness will be key to ensuring that the team progress to the latter stages of the tournament.
A better structure and more suitable system
In the past, England have arrived at major international tournaments deploying traditional, rigid formations that often lacked balance and restricted the freedom of creative players. In short, the systems used have rarely allowed the team to flourish.
However, it appears that Gareth Southgate is opting to go down a slightly different route this summer by utilising a 3-4-3 formation.
The system suits the players that he has at his disposal. The attack-minded nature, pace and quality of Kyle Walker, Kieran Trippier, Danny Rose and Ashley Young makes them perfect wingbacks. At the other end of the pitch Harry Kane will be supported by Dele Alli and Raheem Sterling, who will be given the freedom to roam and be creative influences.
Southgate appears to have provided the England team with a clear structure that has transferred into positive results on the pitch. The side have been harder to break down and more defensively resilient whilst still retaining a concise attacking threat going forward.
There is an abundance of pace throughout the team which will make England equally as effective playing on the front foot or looking to sit back and counter attacker more superior teams.
It is a refreshing change to see an England team enter a major tournament with a clear structure and plan in place with a system that suits the players available.