The curtain drop this month on the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. The opening ceremonies begin on Nov. 20 in Al Khor, before hosts Qatar take on Ecuador.
England is one of the favorites going into the tournament. Only Brazil, Argentina, and current holders France have better odds of winning the tournament. As Qatar makes World Cup history as the first hosts in the Middle East, the big dogs of Europe and South America will be in town looking to add another trophy to the cabinet.
Gaining momentum or facing new challenges?
England have reached the World Cup semi-final stage three times (1966, 1990, 2018), with one win and two losses to show for it. A World Cup semi-final appearance followed by a runner-up finish at Euro 2020 both proved that Southgate and the England men’s team were the real deal.
At the 2018 World Cup in Russia, England reached the semi-finals but fell short of the final in a loss to Croatia. England ultimately finished 4th, losing to Belgium. At Euro 2020, England fell short again, but this time in the final losing on home soil to Italy in that nail-biting penalty shoot out.
English confidence is sky-high after going one better at the UEFA European Championship and reaching the final. Many feel that England can do one better in Qatar and end the 56-year wait to lift the World Cup again.
Spoiled for choice?
Southgate faces a new challenge going into this World Cup, because high expectations are no longer unfounded. England should reach the semis, if not the final.
Coming into Qatar 2022, the challenge is no longer that England needs to be taken seriously – despite the catastrophic showing in the Nations League this year. Having tasted success, Southgate’s latest challenge is the abundance of talent.
Nowhere is the challenge more obvious than the right back position. In the mix for the starting position are Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool), Reece James (Chelsea), Kyle Walker (Manchester City), and Kieran Trippier (Newcastle United).
However, Reece James and Kyle Walker are both recovering from injury, and racing against time to be fit for the squad announcements.
Trent Alexander-Arnold was left out of the England squad completely when they played the final round of UEFA Nations League games.
On the up and up is Kieran Trippier, who leads the resurgent Newcastle United, staking their claim for a place in the Premier League top four, and a coveted Champions League spot.
Southgate’s biggest headache may not even be the right back position. There are four goalkeepers who could start when England face Iran on Nov. 21 in their Group B opener.
Current number one Jordan Pickford (Everton) is a dependable leader as England’s keeper, but his spot is under threat from Nick Pope (Newcastle United), Aaron Ramsdale (Arsenal), and Dean Henderson (Nottingham Forest).
There are headaches like this all over the pitch as England have an unprecedented level of talent pushing for places on the team sheet.
In form or out of luck?
Gareth Southgate’s selection headaches worsen each matchweek. Many players are in stellar form coming into the World Cup, but weren’t in the England setup for the past couple of years.
Southgate receives regular criticism for the ethos of loyalty at the core of the current England team. Critics argue he leaves no room for form to play a role in the selection process. For example, Ivan Toney (Brentford) was called up in September for the final round of UEFA Nations League games, but only managed a spot on the bench in the final game against Germany.
The likes of Callum Wilson (Newcastle), James Maddison (Leicester City), and Jarrod Bowen (West Ham) have made their case to be added to the squad. Pundits and fans have opinions on many more who should be on the plane to Qatar.
Equally as important are those who shouldn’t be on the plane. Harry Maguire, ever the subject of online ridicule, and Raheem Sterling have struggled for consistency in the past few weeks. Both command Southgate’s loyalty.
With only days left before squads are announced, all English eyes are on Gareth Southgate as World Cup dreams are made and shattered.
Photo credit: IMAGO / PA Images
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