Can England really compete at this year’s World Cup?

FA technical director, Dan Ashworth, has said that England are not going to this year’s World Cup just to make up the numbers and come home early after the group stages. He thinks they can ‘inspire the nation’ in Russia, claiming it is not impossible for England to go all the way and win the tournament.

Recent history, however, is not on his side. At the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, England failed to win a single match and were knocked out at the group stages after defeats to Italy, Uruguay and a 0-0 draw with Costa Rica.

At Euro 2016, they did manage to get out of their group following a draw with Russia, victory over Wales, and another draw with Slovakia, but they went on to suffer one of their most humiliating defeats ever, when they were eliminated in the last 16 by Iceland.

For decades, there has been an endemic failure by the senior England team at the big tournaments – their last semi-final appearance coming at Euro ’96 when England hosted it.

Many fans believe that the amount of money being earnt by the players in the Premier League means they don’t have the pride or desire to represent their country anymore, as players like Stuart Pearce, Terry Butcher and Paul Gascoigne once did.

People also point to the fact that there has been an influx of players from other countries into English football, which has stifled the development of homegrown lads. However, England’s youth teams have had a recent period of success to dispel this theory.

The Under-17 and Under-20 teams both won their respective World Cups last year, and the Under-19 squad secured the 2017 European Championship. The U17 team will be hoping to add the 2018 European Championship title to their haul when the competition starts in England in May.

Although this is a promising upturn in English football and its development, until the senior men’s team start competing at the latter stages of tournaments, the FA’s programme surely can’t be deemed a success.

Gareth Southgate is the man tasked with trying to negotiate England into the final stages of the World Cup this time, a manager who cut his teeth amongst the England youth set-up and who enjoyed relative success with the U21’s – many of whom will go to Russia in his squad this time.

He won’t be under too much pressure to succeed at this tournament – although not getting out of a group that contains Panama and Tunisia will be seen as another huge failure. He has been contracted until 2020, so if he is still in charge for the Euros that year, he’ll be doing a pretty good job.

As part of the new format for the Euros, where no one country is the sole host, seven of the Euro 2020 matches will be played at Wembley, including the semi-finals and final. Wembley will be one of 12 host venues across Europe, so it might feel almost like a home tournament.

In qualifying for this year’s World Cup, England won their group and remained unbeaten, winning eight games and drawing twice, conceding only three goals in their 10 matches.

So, is it really beyond the realms of fantasy to think that England can’t have a much better tournament this time around? In knockout tournament football you do need to play well, but you also need to have some luck along the way and be on the right side of those crucial refereeing decision’s – something England certainly haven’t enjoyed over recent decades.

Inspired by the youth of the English game, it’s time the senior’s started to deliver too.

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