Today, with England, we continue to profile, in reverse alphabetical order, the 32 teams which qualified for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
England did not invent soccer, it codified it in 1863 (Laws of the Game) and established the International Football Association Board (1886) comprised of the four UK nations and later FIFA (who now has 50% voting rights). Rule changes require a three-quarters supermajority so compromise in amending the laws is required. The history of the sport’s origins dates back to at least 400 BC when the games of phaininda and episkyros were played in Greek antiquity.
The Three Lions are participating in their 16th World Cup since joining FIFA in 1950. Their best outing was a short walk to Wembley where they won one of the most controversial World Cups in history, the 1966 cup. Previous to that cup, they had alternated departing at the Group stage and the Quarterfinals of the previous four cups. The cup holders then departed in the Quarterfinals in 1970 and followed that up with a spotty run departing at the Group stage, Quarterfinals, Fourth Place, not qualifying in 1994, Round of 16, two back-to-back Quarterfinals, Round of 16, Group stage in 2014 and Fourth Place in 2018.
Placed in Group B with Wales, the USA, and Iran, the English (ranked 5th in the world by FIFA) believe they are well-placed to advance as the top team in the group and they are right in so thinking. The USA has played England tough, and Wales do not fear them, but neither team is a match for the generation coach Gareth Southgate has been fortunate to receive as his charges. Iran is no pushover but again no match for England. The Three Lions’ home kit is a white shirt with blue highlights over blue shorts and white socks and their away kit is all red.
Is an island nation off the northwestern coast of the European land mass of some 50,301 square miles, which was first inhabited over 12,000 years ago and is composed mostly of low hills and plains. Despite its northern location, the island’s weather is temperate if rainy, and changeable with a temperature range between a low 32F in the winter and a high 90F in the summer. England is 85% white ethnically, 59% are Christians, the population of 56.5M speak English, have a GVA of $2T, an HDI score of 0.932 (very high), and they are a constitutional monarchy dating their establishment at 927 with the unification of the Angles, Saxons, and Danes. The British Empire and its remnants made the small nation a global player for centuries and their decline in influence only began after WWII when the USA took over as the Western World’s (and today the globe’s) only superpower.
England is still a global economic and media power and financial center and a leader in aerospace, arms, pharmaceutical, chemical, and software industries, while also producing North Sea oil. Culturally, England has given us: Sir Isaac Newton, William Shakespeare, Charles Darwin, Francis Bacon, Stephen Hawking, King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, Beowulf, Geoffrey Chaucer, Roger Bacon, Christopher Marlowe, Edmund Spenser, John Donne, Ben Johnson, Thomas Hobbes, John Milton, John Locke, Thomas Paine, Samuel Johnson, Edmund Burke, Lord Byron, Alexander Pope, John Keats, Percy Bysshe Shelley, William Blake, William Wordsworth, John Stewart Mill, Bertrand Russel, the Bronte Sisters, Jane Austen, Rudyard Kipling, Thomas Hardy, H.G. Wells, Lewis Carroll, George Orwell, D.H. Lawrence, C.S. Lewis, Agatha Christie, J.R.R. Tolkien, J. K. Rowling, George Frideric Handel (German born but composed mostly in London), the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floy, Elton John, Queen, Rolling Stones, David Bowie, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Alfred Hitchcock, Charlie Chaplin, Laurence Olivier, John Gielgud, Peter Sellers, Michael Cane, Gary Oldman, Helen Mirren, Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, Daniel Day-Lewis, James Bond, Monty Python, Ridley Scott, Tom Hardy, Daniel Craig, Benedict Cumberbatch, Emma Watson, BBC, the Guardian, Battle of Agincourt, Magna Carta, QE1, QE2, Walter Raleigh, the British/USA colonies, parliament, the Industrial Revolution, common law, London, English, and Sherlock Holmes, James Bond, to mention just a few.
Squad (which may change before the cup given injuries, form, and coaching choices—teams mentioned are subject to change given transfers): Goalkeepers—Jordan Pickford (Everton) Dean Henderson (Nottingham Forest), Nick Pope (Newcastle United), and Aaron Ramdsale (Arsenal); Defenders— Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool), Ben Chilwell (Chelsea), Conor Coady (Everton), Eric Dier (Tottenham Hotspur), Marc Guehi (Crystal Palace), Reece James (Chelsea), Harry Maguire (Manchester United), Luke Shaw (Manchester United), John Stones (Manchester City), Fikayo Tomori (AC Milan), Kieran Trippier (Newcastle United), and Kyle Walker (Manchester City); Midfielders—Jude Bellingham (Borussia Dortmund), Mason Mount (Chelsea), Kalvin Phillips (Manchester City), Jordan Henderson (Liverpool), Declan Rice (West Ham United), and James Ward-Prowse (Southampton); Strikers—Tammy Abraham (Roma), Jarrod Bowen (West Ham United), Phil Foden (Manchester City), Jack Grealish (Manchester City), Harry Kane (Tottenham Hotspur), Bukayo Saka (Arsenal), Raheem Sterling (Chelsea), Ivan Toney (Brentford), Jadon Sancho (Manchester United), and Marcus Rashford (Manchester United).
Path to Qatar
England qualified directly to Qatar from UEFA Group I into which they were seeded and placed alongside such powerhouses as Poland, Albania, Hungary, Andorra, and San Marino. Given the opposition, they obtained 26 of the available 30 points and topped their group with a +36-goal differential.
England has mostly employed a 3-4-3 formation, but it has not found the right formula for a settled starting line-up as Southgate still tinkers with his offense and one or two of his midfielders and defenders. Having one of the most talented generations of English players has not facilitated either a belief in the team or a sustained momentum going into Qatar. Being relegated in the Nations League has also taken the luster off the Three Lions.
Euro 2020 (played last year due to C-19) was a shambles in many ways despite their arrival at the final after defeating Germany 2-0 and Ukraine 4-0, and it will be interesting to see how the lads do when not playing international tournaments at home. The organizational largesse they received for the Euro was only matched by the officiating one that allowed them to “defeat” Denmark in the semifinals.
The team has a plethora of offensive-minded players but lacks the same caliber of defense or midfield but playing many of those young assets in sundry locations has allowed Southgate to get the best of the relocated players as well as their colleagues. Among the crop of stars are Phil Foden, Mason Mount, Jack Grealish, Jadon Sancho, Bukayo Saka, Declan Rice, Reece James, and Trent Alexander-Arnold.
Group and Tourney Prospects
England have a history at the World Cup that they are trying to overcome. The fact is that 1966 was an anomaly and that tourney’s officiating allowed a number of potential cup contenders to fall by the wayside consistently facilitating the progression of European teams, including the finalists. The fact that a finals goal was given which has yet to be proven actually occurred has marred their cup win ever since.
Second, but in many ways more importantly, is the other historic fact, namely that England do not produce the players to support their loftiest self-delusions of grandeur. Take a look at the “best domestic league in the world” and what you see is the economic clout to “bring home” the foreign talent with which Premiership teams are laden both on the pitch and in the manager roles—Pep Guardiola, Antonio Conte, Erik ter Hag, Mikel Arteta, and Jurgen Klopp, stand on the sidelines while coaching the likes of Kevin de Bruyne, Gabriel Jesus, Son Heung-min, Joao Cancelo, Virgil van Dijk, Mohamed Salah, Firmino, N’golo Kante, Alisson Becker, Bernardo Silva, Martin Odegaard, and Erling Haaland, to name a few of the top players in the Premiership.
So, what happens when England have to put a home-grown team on the pitch? The answer is you get that second tier of stardom which then has to face their better club teammates on other national teams. Fortunately for England, their international tournament administrative good fortune continues in Qatar as they are in a group which should be easy to navigate and they will most likely meet Senegal or Ecuador in the Round of 16, teams that will make them work but should be ultimately overcome.
World Cup brackets are specifically set up so that seeded teams meet two medium-level opponents and two top-notch opponents on their way to lifting the trophy. England will not meet a second-tier favorite in their group, or the Round of 16, and will only meet a top-notch opponent in the quarterfinals. Thus, it will be at the quarterfinals that England come to the realization of where they really stand in world soccer, and whomever they meet should end the Three Lions’ tourney—save another special circumstance, such as the Euro semis which were gifted them.
All that said, England have a generation of players which can only get better with this experience and if Southgate can get them to play to their potential in Qatar, that, coupled with their lucky draw, might allow them to only play one or two good games and yet earn their way to a semifinal.
Photo: Jack Grealish – Shutterstock ID: 1831469833, by Andrew Dowling Photo