Southgate’s appointment inspired little fanfare, but the 47-year-old done good work in his eighteen months in charge – turning the squad over by trusting younger players and shedding declining veterans, and experimenting with a back five.
No one expects much from this England team, but Southgate has at a minimum set them – and himself – up for future success.
Adam Nawalka, Poland
Polish football is in the midst of a renaissance of sorts, and the Krakow native Nawalka has overseen it since 2013 – taking the national team to the quarterfinals of Euro 2016 and now to a first World Cup since ’06.
The coach is popular at home, and his side scored almost three goals per game in qualifying. Robert Lewandowski is to thank for much of that production, but there’s more to the team than just him. Another quarterfinal place is the target.
Aliou Cissé, Senegal
Cissé was handed the Senegal U23 job just six years after the end of his playing career in 2013, and he took over the top job two years later. At 42, he’ll be the tournament’s youngest coach.
He has a talented team, the best Senegal has produced since the 2002 side that beat France, but there are doubts centered on his lack of experience and tactical acumen. Should Senegal fail at this tournament, he’ll face the music.
José Pékerman, Colombia
The Argentinian Pékerman, one of the game’s most respected elder statesmen, was made a Colombian citizen after qualifying the national team for the 2014 World Cup – an accomplishment he called one of the proudest of his life.
The good times have continued to roll from there. Colombia went to the quarterfinals in Brazil, and appear capable of a similar run in Russia. Pékerman connects with his players, and his experience is unmatched in this group.
Akira Nishino, Japan
Vahid Halilhodžić’s Algeria team was one of the best stories of the 2014 World Cup, but the Bosnian ultimately couldn’t survive a rocky qualification campaign and his decision to drop aging stars Keisuke Honda and Shinji Kagawa. He was fired in April.
In his place, on extremely short notice, Japan tapped Akira Nishino, the football association’s technical director and a former AFC Champions League winner with Gamba Osaka. Nishino has reinstated Honda and Kagawa, but morale is low.