England: The pressure is off
Qualifying for the World Cup is almost an afterthought for England nowadays. They’ve done so every year since 1998. But it’s not about simply making the World Cup for England. Their supporters usually expect great things out of their squad for every major tournament.
Every tournament, except, it seems, for this one. Maybe it’s the fact that the last two times they were in a major competition they were humiliated in one way or another. In 2014, England only managed a single point in the group stage before their exit. To be fair, their group was one of, if not the, toughest that year, consisting of Italy, Uruguay and Costa Rica. Still, only managing a solitary point in a 0-0 draw in the last, ultimately meaningless, match is ugly.
In Euro 2016, England made it to the knockout rounds, but that didn’t mean much as three of four teams did so in every group. England fans don’t need to be reminded of the embarrassment that followed that.
The next few years were tumultuous, to say the least. Sam Allardyce was unceremoniously appointed new manager, a reign that lasted one game after he gave advice on how to get around rules governing player transfers. Gareth Southgate took over and has quietly, if tediously, lost only twice in 16 games.
All of this is to say that this team may carry the least amount of pressure that an England team has for a very long time. Fans are hoping that Harry Kane can fully recover in time to continue his torrid form at Tottenham and lead them past the knockout rounds. But really, this lack of burden could be the best thing to happen to them in quite some time.