After a pair of insipid 1-0 victories over those footballing giants that are Slovenia and Lithuania, England secured their automatic qualification for the World Cup in Russia next summer. It’s a case of mission accomplished for Gareth Southgate’s men, and with the vast majority of qualifiers confirmed the bookmakers have opened a tentative ante-post market as to who will lift the Jules Rimet trophy in 2018.
Germany have been installed as 11/2 favourites, and that’s no surprise given that a) they are the reigning champions, and b) the tournament will be played out on European soil.
Interesting prices are available on Brazil (8/1), Spain (8/1) and France (11/1), while Argentina are 12/1 despite having not even qualified yet! That puts England’s 25/1 into some context.
The Three Lions are sandwiched in-between Italy (22/1) and European champions Portugal (30/1), and so we have to ask are those odds realistic value?
No Home Comforts
England needed a point against Slovenia (or against Lithuania, in the unlikely event that they were beaten) on Thursday to confirm their place in Russia next summer, and they achieved just that – in rather dire fashion, it has to be said.
The normally neutral BBC described England’s performance as ‘lifeless, uninspired and mediocre’, and that reflected the mood of the nation even if the nation used rather more X-rated language than that.
From front to back, it was a worrying 90 minutes for Southgate and his coaching team to sit through. Slovenia carved open the English defence on numerous occasions, and it actually took the intervention of the much-maligned Joe Hart to spare his side’s blushes.
The central midfield duo of Eric Dier and Jordan Henderson lacked creativity and guile, and really we have to ask did both of them need to play in this game? Surely a more proactive presence, who could orchestrate attacks from deeper, is required….perhaps there’s still a role of Jack Wilshere in this England set-up?
Raheem Sterling and Marcus Rashford are pacey and look dangerous, but their final product is often found wanting. And Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain….well, the less said about him the better.
In contrast, there aren’t enough superlatives to say about Harry Kane, whose goal here and in Lithuania secured the six points. Will he run out of steam this season? That question will have Tottenham fans squirming in their sleep.
Southgate made seven changes to the side that disappointed against Slovenia, handing debuts to Harrys Maguire and Winks. This was the perfect opportunity for the eleven on the pitch to impress in what was essentially a dress rehearsal for squad selection, and yet none of those involved could summon up an eye-catching performance.
Jack Butland started between the sticks, and in truth he had very little to do apart from saving Michael Keane’s blushes when the defender nearly put through his own goal.
Southgate opted to field his side in a 3-4-3 formation mirroring that of Chelsea, and the back three of Keane, Stones and Maguire had a pretty quiet evening. Kieran Trippier and Aaron Cresswell were the wing backs, but neither put on a show that suggests Kyle Walker and Danny Rose should sleep fitfully ahead of the trip to Russia.
Jordan Henderson was again selected in midfield and he again put in a very ordinary display, playing with fear and doing very little with the ball. He is on thin ice as an England international at present.
Net to him was one of the few bright spots of the evening in Harry Winks. The Spurs midfielder has played very little for his club, and found himself perhaps somewhat surprisingly earning his first full international cap. But he let nobody down, and in stark contrast to Henderson his first instinct was to pass forward whenever he could. Winks has a bright future – although surely World Cup 2018 is too early in his fledgling young career.
England haven’t progressed to the quarter final stage of a World Cup since 2006, and in 2014 their humiliation was complete when they failed to even progress from the group.
Can this group of players improve upon that? On the evidence of this past week, absolutely not. The 25/1 offered by bookmakers on them to win the whole tournament seems a tad ridiculous, in truth….