England has underwhelmed at recent World Cups and still has the sting of a last-16 loss to Iceland at Euro 2016, but with new and exuberant talent, the Three Lions are poised to roar.

By 90Min
June 05, 2018

England has not missed a World Cup since 1994, but its record since then has been famously underwhelming.

The much-maligned 'golden generation' achieved just two quarterfinals, while the post-Sven Goran Eriksson years have seen diminishing returns as the FA scrabbles time and again for a new man to take England back to past glory.

Despite the supposedly low expectations for this year, insidious optimism is gradually creeping back into England fans' minds as Russia approaches. In-form stars, decent friendly results and a kind draw have all boosted confidence. However, few know better than England fans: pride comes before an early exit. Here's a closer look at England entering the World Cup.


How They Qualified

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England's road to Russia was a straightforward one. However, the fact that it was one of only four unbeaten sides in European qualifying and the team with the fewest goals conceded (three) glosses over some issues.

Sam Allardyce kicked off the Three Lions' campaign back in 2016, but he was ousted after a media sting caught him making revelations that put his integrity as England boss in dispute.

Despite few scares in a routine qualification process, England was not scintillating against Slovenia, Slovakia, Scotland, Lithuania or even Malta, and questions linger over whether manager Gareth Southgate knows the best starting lineup.


Group Stage

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Belgium aside, England has a relatively kind run in the group stage and won't have to face Roberto Martinez's Red Devils until the third game, when both theoretically should already be through to the next round.

The Three Lions kick off against Tunisia, who head a north African revival at this World Cup, on June 18 in Volgograd before facing first-time qualifier Panama on June 24 (Nizhny Novograd) and finally Belgium on June 28 (Kaliningrad). 

Two wins to open the group should remove any drama, but one slip-up could add some unnecessary stakes to the finale. 


Route to the Final

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While most England fans will tell you they have no expectations for the current crop, another group stage exit would go down about as well as a Raheem Sterling tattoo at the offices of The Sun. 

The last 16 might have been considered par before the groups were drawn, but that has to be the baseline expectation, with a winnable opponent waiting. England would face one of Poland, Colombia, Senegal or Japan in the first knockout game

None of the above would be a walkover, especially considering England has won just two World Cup knockout fixtures since 1990. However, it is a nicer route to the last eight than in previous tournaments.

After the last 16, England would almost certainly face Germany in the quarterfinals, and Spain or possibly Argentina could be waiting after that before a final against presumed favorites Brazil, France–or even a rematch vs. Belgium. But let's not get carried away.


Squad

Goalkeepers: Jack Butland (Stoke), Jordan Pickford (Everton), Nick Pope (Burnley)

Defenders: Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool), Kieran Trippier (Tottenham), Danny Rose (Tottenham), Ashley Young (Manchester United), Fabian Delph (Manchester City), Kyle Walker (Manchester City), John Stones (Manchester City), Harry Maguire (Leicester), Gary Cahill (Chelsea), Phil Jones (Manchester United)

Midfielders: Eric Dier (Tottenham), Jesse Lingard (Manchester United), Ruben Loftus-Cheek (Chelsea), Dele Alli (Tottenham), Jordan Henderson (Liverpool)

Forwards: Harry Kane (Tottenham), Jamie Vardy (Leicester), Marcus Rashford (Manchester United), Raheem Sterling (Manchester City), Danny Welbeck (Arsenal)


Predicted Lineup

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3-5-1-1: Pickford; Walker, Stones, Cahill; Trippier, Henderson, Dier, Alli, Rose; Sterling; Kane


Outlook

It's been 12 years since England last won a knockout game at any tournament, so just aiming for that and the idea of a penalty shootout exit to Germany seems almost dreamy.

The navigable group and last-16 tie means the final eight is a distinct possibility and should be what Southgate and his men are aiming for, without getting overly cocky.

On paper, Harry Kane has a reasonable shot at the Golden Boot if England can hang around long enough, but it's never that easy and gritty wins over Tunisia and Panama will be welcomed with sweet relief before the showdown for first place with Belgium. England's young talent is bold and fearless and not beholden to the expectations of the Frank Lampard-Steven Gerrard-John Terry-Wayne Rooney generation. But in order to completely change the narrative, it'll need to win some games against more talented–on paper–competition.

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