World Cup 2018 Preview

Well, here we are again!

As some of you already know, we lost all the content from March 2013 but in some respects that was a blessing in disguise – it means we don’t have anything to refer to from the disastrous outings in the last two tournaments.

A bit like the England team itself in that case.

There are only five players in this squad that went to Brazil four years ago and so this is practically a brand new side – the veteran is Ashley Young, who is five months older than Gary Cahill despite having won 24 fewer caps – and the only teenager in the side is Trent Alexander-Arnold. This looks like a squad for the future, but time will tell.

That being said, England are currently 16/1 to win the whole thing – about right considering it’s been 12 years since we got to the quarter finals and 28 since the semi finals – but that’s a bigger price than both our Group G rivals Belgium and arguably the least impressive Argentinian side since 2002.

With all due respect to both Panama and Tunisia, for once I agree with both the bookies and the pundits: the group is been us and Belgium, but as we face the Red Devils last it may come down to who can score the most goals against Panama. The Belgians get first crack at that next Monday (BBC1, 4:00pm) before we take on Tunisia (BBC1, 7:00pm) so at least we’ll have an idea of what we need to achieve in our second game (against Panama, Sunday 24th June, BBC1, 1:00pm).

Goals are where the potential issues are: only Harry Kane and Danny Welbeck have scored more than ten goals in their international careers and – unlike previous tournaments – they aren’t going to get much help in that respect from the midfield. In some respects Kane is comparable to Romelu Lukaku – he’s two months younger and they have similar strike rates in international games – but we don’t have anyone like Kevin DeBruyne or even Marouane Fellaini behind them.

The other problem with Belgium might be familiarity. Eleven of the Belgian squad play in the Premier League and four of them belong to Spurs – that’s only one fewer Tottenham player than in the England squad. But it’s also worth remembering that since their fourth place finish in Mexico ’86, Belgium haven’t got past the second round in a European based World Cup Finals tournament since 1990. Here’s a reminder of the last time they got that far:

Assuming we do get out of Group G – and a draw with Belgium should probably be enough – our next opponents will be one of the qualifiers from Group H. That section has been widely predicted as the most open of all the groups this summer and I’d agree with that: although Colombia reached the second round in Italia 90, it’s been 36 years since Poland qualified from the group stage in a ‘European’ World Cup and neither Japan nor Senegal have ever done that. We could be in trouble if it’s Poland: they’ve been rated higher in than us in the ever reliable (!) FIFA rankings since February 2017 and although they’ve not beaten us for 45 years, records like that are made to be broken.

After that it’s anyone’s guess. As for predictions, I’d say that another unsuccessful trip to the quarter finals is probably on the cards but as long as the team performs at a better level than 2014 – not an unrealistic expectation – then the fans can be happy. A little bit of luck and we might even lose narrowly to the Germans yet again.

From a wider perspective, in the same way as winning the Champions League and the Premier League seem to have become competitions that only elite teams can win, I’m not expecting a ‘new’ name on the World Cup this summer.

However, it’s worth pointing out that no country has won consecutive titles since Brazil in 1962 and with some serious questions about the morale of the Germany squad following an ill advised photo session that featured Mezut Ozil and Ilkay Gundogan with the Turkish PM, the Germans might not retain their title.

Spain – who sacked their manager yesterday – have a dreadful record in European based tournaments and despite been written off, Argentina actually have a slightly better record than Brazil do when playing in European World Cups.

Like most of us, I’ll probably have a much better idea of who might win the whole thing in a couple of weeks time but the two teams I’ll be following are Brazil and France: the former because they have a point to prove after their disastrous semi final four years ago and the latter because – on paper at least – they have the talent to compete with the Latin Americans. The question with the French is whether Didier Deschamps can utilise that talent effectively.

Finally for now, here are a few games that could be worth following:

Potential Upset: Russia v Egypt (Tuesday June 19th, BBC 1, 7:00pm BBC1)

I know FIFA rankings can be a bit odd, but Egypt overtook Russia in June 2016 and even though it was against the Soviet Union, the Egyptians won their only previous meeting back in June 1991. I also think there’s the possibility of a surprise result in the game between Argentina and Iceland (Saturday, 7pm ITV) but that may be along the lines of Argentina not winning.

England’s possible next opponents: Poland v Colombia (Sunday June 24th, ITV, 7:00pm) 

Four hours or so after England v Panama finishes so don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Best game between two sides that may not qualify for The Round Of Sixteen:

Australia v Peru (Monday June 26th, ITV 3:00pm)

The assumption is that France and Denmark will qualify from Group B, but if anything upsets that plan then both of these teams might need to win to qualify for the next round: this pair are suspect defensively so there might be a few goals in a game that features two very colourful kits.

Most entertaining triple header: Wednesday 27th June

South Korea v Germany (BBC, 3:00pm, BBC)

Mexico v Sweden (BBC2, 3:00pm)

Brazil v Serbia (ITV, 7:00pm)

Brazil and Germany finish their group games on the same day. Although both of them should have qualified for the The Round of Sixteen, Serbia might need a point or three to join them. If South Korea v Germany starts getting out of hand, turn over to Mexico v Sweden on BBC2 because that’s probably going to be the game that settles the runners up in Group F.

Next scheduled post: a preview of England v Tunisia, which will be up at some point on Monday!

Will Capello Bring in ‘New Blood’ for Friendly with France?

Thanks to guest blogger Richard Smith for his thoughts about next week’s international – with the possible exception of Italy, France were probably the worst of the major European nations taking part in South Africa last summer…

England take on France next week at Wembley in what will be their last international of what has been an almost forgettable year. Almost forgettable in the sense that at least they seem to have picked up from where they left off before their woeful World Cup performances in South Africa.

Although unable to beat Montenegro at Wembley last month, England still look the best team in their Euro 2012 qualifying group, securing three wins from their four matches played thus far. They will go into 2011 in second place in the group, with a potentially feisty encounter against Wales their next group game at the end of March.

With the issue of who will be captain now decided in favour of Rio Ferdinand, Steven Gerrard and John Terry can both concentrate on what they do best, by returning to their best form and confirming in the process, that they are both vital links in the England set up.

The match against France presents manager, Fabio Capello, the opportunity to include one or two youngsters, most notably perhaps, Jack Wilshere of Arsenal, who has been impressing plaudits since forcing himself into the Arsenal team. Wilshere made his debut of course against Hungary as a late substitute and has been in sparkling form for Arsenal since and could be given a start ahead of Gareth Barry, who has been well out of touch.

In the absence of first choice strikers, Wayne Rooney and Jermain Defoe, Capello might even be persuaded to select Newcastle’s Andy Carroll, who looks like he has far more about him than regular England pick, Peter Crouch; Carroll’s off the pitch behaviour might just put Capello off however.
Kevin Davies has continued to impress up front for Bolton, with his boss, Owen Coyle, calling him unplayable at the moment. Capello is a known admirer and gave him his debut as a substitute against Montenegro which strongly suggests that he, like Carroll, might get the nod over Crouch.

Another striker who has been receiving rave reviews all season is Cardiff City’s Jay Bothroyd, who has scored ten goals from 12 appearances for the ‘Bluebirds’ so far this season. Bothroyd was once upon a time on Arsenal’s books but was released by Arsene Wenger in 2000. He had spells at Coventry, Perugia in Italy, Blackburn, Charlton, Wolves, before finally settling at Cardiff, where he has a huge following. Whether Capello would dip into the The Championship though remains to be seen with David Nugent the last player outside of the Premier League to be capped in his only appearance under Steve McClaren in 2007.

Gary Cahill, team mate of Davies at Bolton could also get another chance, particularly after his fine display against Spurs last weekend. If Ferdinand and Terry are both fit then Cahill might have to content himself with a place on the bench, but he is certainly one for the future.

France who had an even worse time of it than England in South Africa have also picked up since Laurent Blanc took over the reins from Raymond Domenech in August. As is well known several of their players even went on strike in South Africa, unhappy with the way Domenech managed the team, players such as Nicolas Anelka of Chelsea and Patrick Evra of Manchester United received suspensions for their actions from the French FA.
France however come into the game against England having won their last three games and sitting on top of Euro 2012 qualification Group D with nine points from four games played. In those last three games they did not concede a goal. However, the England odds of 6/5 to win this game suggest that France’s change of form will come to a halt at Wembley; however, at 2/1 about the visitors, you know which of the two team’s odds make most appeal!

Hopefully, Capello will use this friendly against France to offer some new faces a chance to impress and at least finish what has been a disastrous year for the national team on a positive note.

It’s Not Just Our Players…

The fallout from Arsenal’s midweek UCL game against Barcelona continues: now Arsene Wenger and French head coach Raymond Domenech are getting all livid over the injury that has ended William Gallas’ season. Wenger’s argument for risking Gallas is that it’s Arsenal that pay Gallas’ wages not France, which is fair enough I suppose although I can imagine Wenger sulking publicly if an Arsenal player was injured playing in an international. In any case, Domenech is not universally popular in France (or Ireland for that matter) and Les Blues are currently about eighth favourite for the tournament; if France fail spectacularly and Arsenal don’t win the Premiership this season, maybe Wenger and Domenech could swap jobs.

Oh and it’s Man Utd v Chelsea in a couple of hours in case anyone forgot. Hopefully no-one else from the England squad gets injured.