It’s fair to say that England have quite the history when it comes to the World Cup. From 1966 and Bobby Moore to the famous Gordon Banks save against Pele, to the tears streaming down the face of Gazza, and more recently the shameful exit in the group stages from Brazil 2014; our World Cup forays have stuck long in the memory.
History, though, can be a hefty burden more than anything else, and it is in light of this that you wouldn’t blame the England players for going into Russia 2018 with the sole ambition of avoiding scathing media reports and newspaper columns devoted to personal attacks on the England players or manager.
World Cup 2018
In fact, you have to look far and wide to find someone who believes that England stand a serious shot at glory when it comes to lifting the cup, with the sensible speculation revolving on whether they can make it to the quarter-finals. To achieve that dream, though, and to stand a chance of reaching the subsequent stages of the tournament, they will need the following five players to justify their own individual pre-competition hype.
5. Whoever ends up between the sticks
It seems odd to think that England haven’t really got a number one goalkeeper at the moment. Odd as it may seem, the reality is even more worrying. Joe Hart has been there before, with 75 senior performances, but has flopped on the biggest of stages. Jack Butland is keen but untested against the very best. And, of course, Jordan Pickford seems to have serious talent but might not inspire confidence against the world-beaters lining up for the top teams at the tournament.
It will take one of these players to step out from the shadows and dominate where it matters – in between the sticks in Russia – if England want to make serious tracks in the latter stages of this summer’s tournament.
4. Harry Kane: goals, goals and more goals
Harry Kane, with his 12 goals at senior international level from only 23 appearances, is currently one of the top picks to end up as the top goalscorer at Russia 2018. This suggests that either lots of passionate Tottenham fans are backing him avidly in this market, or that he is primed to seriously announce himself this summer as a new rival to the likes of Ronaldo and Messi.
Arguably Kane is the ray of light in the England team this year and that could pay off in a tournament where he is likely to be left isolated up top on a regular basis, having to bang in goals from limited chances. This will be a test of Kane not just as a top striker but also to see if he can play with the same level of heart and soul when wearing the three lions as when boasting the strip of his paymasters, Tottenham.
3. Raheem Sterling and the boo boys
By announcing that he needs more love and backing, Sterling, who is still only 23 years old, has put himself under pressure to show that he deserves the support and love of the fans. This is especially the case when fans don’t expect much to begin with and are half-hoping to see a glorious failure, so they can bemoan the luck the team has suffered.
It is arguable that Sterling made himself unpopular in certain quarters after his big money move to Manchester City and this is where the boo boys take their justification from, but he is now an established and vital part of a Manchester City team dominating the Premier League. His cynics would suggest he is just as likely to pull out of tackles as he is to pull off a stunning move in the final third, and he’ll need to rectify that if he wants to lead the Three Lions to the latter stages in the tournament.
Some consistent wing play on the international stage will certainly go a long way to getting Sterling the love he so badly wants from the fans.
2. Phil Jones and the last chance saloon
When you are called the best defender in the team by your national side manager, the chances are you’re going to end up on the plane to the World Cup. Phil Jones might enjoy having this status, but some fans are thinking that he could be a key reason why the team will end up on a much earlier than anticipated (and hoped) flight home.
Jones has the experience of playing in big matches for club and country, although his only appearance in the World Cup came in a 0-0 draw against Costa Rica in 2014, but he needs to show that he isn’t a passenger and can finally start to impress consistently at international level. If he can channel his inner Terry Butcher and show that he can be the lionheart to roar the team on to glory, the belief pumped into him could well prove to be justified.
1. Jamie Vardy and his rise to the top
Jamie Vardy pretty much encapsulates everything that Cristiano Ronaldo doesn’t. Swigging his cans of Red Bull, not really training in the way you would expect from a top player, and coming to top-level football late in his career, Vardy would be delighted simply to step onto the plane.
What Jamie Vardy can do, though, is take his party atmosphere to the World Cup and help England to defeat the long odds on them winning the trophy, in much the same way as he did during his title-winning season with Leicester, when they famously overcame odds of 5000/1 to end the season as Premier League champions. Vardy is likely to be forced to make his impact as a super sub and is quite possibly going to find himself horribly out of his depth if England reach the latter stages of the competition, but this is a golden chance for him to truly end his career on a high.