Monday, 28 November, 2022

England eye World Cup glory

Netherlands take on Senegal in day’s second match

England eye World Cup glory
England’s forward Harry Kane takes part in a training session at Al Wakrah SC Stadium in Al Wakrah on Sunday. – AFP PHOTO

England kick off their World Cup campaign against Iran today desperate to take the final step after twice falling just short of winning the country's first major trophy in more than half a century.

The match kicks off at 07:00pm (BST).

Gareth Southgate's players will be relieved to finally focus on football after spending much of the build-up to the tournament mired in the ceaseless controversies surrounding host nation Qatar.

Southgate took charge with England at a low ebb after a series of humiliations on and off the pitch as they start their three Group B fixtures established as one of the leading contenders.

A woeful Euro 2016 exit against Iceland brought a suitably depressing end to Roy Hodgson's England reign, while his successor, Sam Allardyce, lasted only 67 days and one match before being forced out after a newspaper sting.

Southgate set about rebuilding the team and has gradually restored them to the upper echelons of the international game.

A surprise run to the 2018 World Cup semi-finals in Russia gave the manager credibility among previously sceptical players and fans.

And he followed that impressive achievement by leading England to their first major final for 55 years at last year's European Championship.

But while Southgate has made England a team to be feared again, he has yet to deliver the silverware his football-obsessed country has craved since Bobby Moore lifted the World Cup in 1966.

The World Cup run four years ago ended in a 2-1 defeat to Croatia after England squandered the lead, while Italy recovered from Luke Shaw's early goal to beat Southgate's men on penalties in the Euro final at a shell-shocked Wembley.

Not only did England lose when the stakes were highest, but in both matches they retreated into their shell with a conservative game-plan that left Southgate open to criticism.

The England boss, hailed as a fashion icon for donning a debonair waistcoat at the last World Cup, will be eager to end suspicions that he cannot handle pressure when it is at its most intense.

Unable to dispel accusations that his cautious approach prevents players from fully expressing themselves, Southgate has conceded there are lessons to learn from England's failures.

However, there were few signs of any tactical growth from the 52-year-old as England laboured through a dismal Nations League campaign prior to the World Cup.

Having failed to win any of their past six matches, England arrived in Qatar on their worst run of form since 1993.

"I think it's crazy talk. People's perceptions change so quickly," Dier said, when asked about criticism of the coach.

Meanwhile, in the day’s second match, the Netherlands will take on Senegal in their opening Group A match at 10:00pm (BST).

Netherlands star Virgil van Dijk said he was sad to learn that former Liverpool teammate Sadio Mane would miss the World Cup due to injury, even if it will boost Dutch hopes.

The defender was due to come up against Mane but the Bayern Munich forward is out of the tournament after suffering a leg injury playing for his club.

Senegal coach Aliou Cisse told his younger players on Sunday that it was their time to shine after talisman Sadio Mane was ruled out of the World Cup.