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25 Jun 2018

World Cup 2018: Why England won't win the World Cup

World Cup 2018: Why England won't win the World Cup

England have made a promising start, but the odds are long for a triumph in Russia.

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Suspect at the    back   

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The real test

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The hype train

REUTERS/Carlos Barria

"It's coming home!" That was the phrase percolating in the minds of England fans on Sunday. 

Having been let down so many times, they began this tournament shorn of the usual rhetoric and ego. It wasn't so much 'Britannia Rules the Waves' as 'Britannia Probably Won't Rock The Boat'.

But a last-gasp win which was then followed by a 6-1 pulping of Panama has changed everything. As things stand, Harry Kane is the leading scorer, ahead of Romelu Lukaku and Cristiano Ronaldo, and England have booked their place in the knock-out rounds. 

As the band plays and the flags wave, supporters are growing increasingly enthused. They might just bloody do it. Mightn't they?

Suspect at the back

The answer, unfortunately, is "No". 

Firstly, England have looked suspect at the back. In the opening minutes of Sunday's fixture, Panama found themselves through on goal only to blaze the resulting chance wide. It was a lapse in concentration that a more talented side would have finished ruthlessly.

Southgate's back three looks pretty in possession but the illusion falls apart when his side are put under any sustained pressure. 

REUTERS/Carlos Barria

A determined press will likely unsettle the nervous John Stones, whilst Kyle Walker's defensive capability remains seriously untested on the right-hand side.

On the left wing, Ashley Young has endured two anonymous showings. He has been much less effective than the rampaging Kieran Trippier on the right, looking ceramic in possession and failing to get forward with any sort of intent.

The real test

So far, Jordan Henderson has been the supreme conductor of the England midfield. 

When faced with top-level opposition, however, he is routinely found short. Luka Modric and Toni Kroos played around him in the Champions League final and one - or both - will likely have to be overcome if England are to lift the trophy.

The fact of the matter remains: any judgement made about this England team is made off the back of results against teams who conceded five or six goals in the second round of the group stage fixtures.

REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado

This isn't to say that England haven't been playing well - Gareth Southgate has done a laudable job of rejuvenating the side in the course of his tenure. However, the real tests are yet to arrive.

The most obvious barrier to England's triumph, then, remains the quality of the opposition: Germany's late win against Sweden will likely kickstart a robust defence of their title, whilst France and Spain are in pole position to progress despite not firing on all cylinders. 

England might have stolen a march on their competitors but the same sides will surely awaken from slumber in the latter stages.

The hype train

Southgate has struck a considered tone thus far with his watery pronouncements helping to dampen expectations. He will be powerless, however, to stop the hype train once it rolls in the knockout stages. 

Certain sections of the English press, for all their jingoism and chest-thumping, would love nothing more than to see their side crash and burn.

REUTERS/Lee Smith

It's a fact that the players seem acutely aware of. As the minutes ticked down against Tunisia, the sense of panic that enveloped the team was almost palpable. Journalists were prepping their disconsolate stories, and Southgate was likely bracing himself for the barrage of uncomfortable questions. 

The relief on the players' and managers' faces hinted at a mentality that might lack against teams more weathered under pressure.

A quarter-final exit remains the most likely outcome for Southgate's charges. Anything less would be crime. But anything more would be a fairy tale.

Do you think England can win the trophy? Let us know by commenting below.