England will not disgrace themselves in Russia but when do they dominate games?

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Brian Glanville: Southgate’s England Are Nothing Special

Gareth Southgate’s England squad and team do not fill me with any great optimism for the current World Cup. The second-half display at Wembley against a relatively modest Nigerian team, especially after half-time when the pendulum swung, was as modest as the ultimate scoreline suggests. Indeed, when under Southgate do England ever emerge from a game, unless it be against the likes of San Marino, to achieve a handsome victory?

True, the players available to Southgate are hardly abundant. Since he decided to omit an infuriated Jack Wilshere, who is there to create chances from midfield? Talk of Dele Alli is mere wish fulfilment. In any case against Nigeria he was playing relatively deep in midfield. Nor in the recent season did he contribute much in the way of goals he himself scored.

Up front in that game it surprised me that Jamie Vardy never got on the field, while a place as substitute went to Danny Welback, experienced but not remotely as fast, penetrative and opportunist. I am in full agreement with the columnist who suggested the enrolment of that dazzling teenager, Fulham’s Sessegnon.

As it is, the use of attacking wing-backs seems to me a self-defeating compromise. It can hardly be stated enough that the essence of a good natural winger is to go outside his opposing full-back, get to the line and pull the back back into the goalmouth for the most dangerous pass in the game. When the full-back is a right-footer playing on the left, as does 32-year-old Ashley Young, the problem is compounded.

Harry Kane took his goal in style against Nigeria, even with some complicity from the opposing goalkeeper, but, returning after his injury, he did look slightly off the pace and England urgently need him to be at full power in Russia. Raheem Sterling has pace and trickery, but Vardy has both in abundance.

At least Southgate doesn’t include wingers incapable of beating their man or crossing the ball from nearer the goal – as was the case with the grotesquely overindulged David Beckham, whose so-called crosses came from such deep positions as to be negligible.

In defence, Gary Cahill, previously out of favour, seemed to have recovered his form against Nigeria, where he took his goal well. It does not surprise me that Southgate doesn’t seem to have made up his mind about John Stones, who, for all his poise on the ball, tends to give too many second chances.

England in Russia will probably not disgrace themselves and should survive an initial group in which Belgium, if all their stars play to form, should sail through but will meet England only in the final game. At their best they should, probably with Brazil, be a candidate for the Final.

Germany‘s surprising defeat by the unfancied Austrians does make you wonder about them and whether they may have passed their meridian.

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I still keep dwelling on the recent European Cup Final and what so easily might have been. Two shocking goalkeeping errors (was he concussed?) are enough to sink any team but there was more to it than that. Not least the appalling challenge all too early on by Sergio Ramos on the inspiration of the Liverpool attack, the prolific Mohamed Salah. Without him, Liverpool lost a huge percentage of that efficacy. But to replace him as Klopp did with Adam Lallana, who had so recently returned from injury, made no sense or impact at all.

Overall, it was surely a tarnished victory for Real Madrid who, given their bizarrely dire performance in the Spanish league, seriously need to strengthen a squad which will no longer be managed by Zinedine Zidane.

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Argentina? While Diego Maradona jeers from the sidelines at the present managerial incumbent, Sampaoli, it is clearer than ever that a huge burden rests on the shoulders of Lionel Messi who after a corruscating beginning found it just too much for him in the final phases of the last World Cup.

Did Russia buy this World Cup? Doesn’t everybody?

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