England team pose for a photograph prior to their Euro 2016 Group B Soccer match between England and Slovakia at Stade Geoffroy-Guichard, Saint-Étienne in France on Monday, June 20, 2016. Photo: Reuters
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World Cup Success not Beyond England if Their Key Men Perform

England National Team head into the 2018 World Cup in Russia with expectations at an all-time low after their recent poor showings at major tournaments.

The Three Lions were woeful in Brazil four years ago and their embarrassing exit from the 2016 European Championships against Iceland was another big disappointment for England’s long-suffering fans.

However, there are reasons to believe that manager Gareth Southgate has picked a squad that could make it to the later stages of the tournament, particularly if their key men produce their best form.

Read on as we assess England’s chances of success this summer.

 

The Harry Kane team?

Mauricio Pochettino bristled at Pep Guardiola’s suggestion that Tottenham are a one-man team and there have been similar comments that England are too reliant on Kane.

The 24-year-old has scored 12 goals in 23 appearances for his country, but England certainly have other players who are capable of getting on the scoresheet.

Marcus Rashford, Raheem Sterling and Jamie Vardy have the ability to cause defenders problems in Russia and Southgate will be hoping they take some of the weight off Kane’s shoulders.

 

The case for the defence

England have conceded just once in their last six matches and that takes some doing at any level of the game.

Clean sheets in friendlies against Germany, Brazil and Netherlands are not to be sniffed at, and Southgate has clearly improved his side defensively.

Kyle Walker has been moved inside into a three-man defence and his pace will be crucial against the better teams in Russia.

England are priced at 5/6 to reach the quarter-finals, so use these free spins in the UK to boost your bankroll if you believe their defensive strength can take them into the last eight of the competition.

Midfield is a worry

A central midfield pairing of Jordan Henderson and Eric Dier could not be argued to be anything other than functional.

Henderson received plenty of praise for his performances during Liverpool’s run in the Champions League, but he resembled a headless chicken in the final against Real Madrid and the same is likely to happen when England face the top nations.

However, Dele Alli, Jesse Lingard and Ruben Loftus-Cheek offer Southgate some useful flair options – let’s hope he is brave enough to use them.

 

The draw has been kind

England will be playing at their sixth consecutive World Cup this summer and they are aiming to progress beyond the last 16 for the first time since 2006.

An opening group of Belgium, Tunisia and Panama should hold no fears for the Three Lions.

If they can win the group they will be pitted against the runner-up from Group H in the last 16. Their opponents would probably be either Poland or Colombia and both are the sort of sides England are capable of beating.

Things get more difficult in the quarter-finals, with Brazil possibly lying in wait, but they are certainly not unbeatable.

Whatever happens in Russia it is important that England leave the World Cup with their heads held high. Winning the tournament is an improbable dream, but restoring some pride in the national team would be a step in the right direction.