The following is the latest blog from
englandfootball.org, which has been seen in over 85 countries. It was
written by eighteen-year-old Dom Smith, who has been writing about the
England team since he was twelve. He posts new articles almost every week
and all are well-informed, articulate and thought-provoking. There have
also been interviews with guests such as Trent Alexander-Arnold, Jonathan
Panzo (England’s Under-19 captain) and Clive Tyldesley (ITV’s England
commentator). Dom also makes regular appearances on Russell Osborne’s
threelionspodcast.com and his work has been seen by Henry Winter from The
Times and The Guardian’s Barney Ronay. His ambition is to be a sports
journalist and we wish him well. Be sure to check out more articles at
HOW GOOD ARE ENGLAND?
After England made the semi-finals of Italia ’90
against the odds, they qualified for Euro ’92 and turned up in high
spirits. But at the tournament itself, they scored one goal in three games
and went home bottom of their group. It seems highly unlikely that history
will repeat itself at Euro 2020.
England are flourishing
under Gareth Southgate, and if one thing has changed since he led the team
all the way to Moscow in the summer it’s that
places is now as high as it has been for years.
Players like Fabian Delph, Jesse Lingard and Kieran Trippier are likely to
really struggle for England game time now – players that were so pivotal
to the success last summer and to all that beer garden mayhem back home.
The World Cup, the win in Spain, revenge over
Croatia and then ten goals in two matches in March have got England fans
everywhere pondering and wondering and questioning the same thing. Exactly
how good are we?
It doesn’t always go
like this, and it’s much harder when you made the semis and played so
well, but England have improved since the World Cup. In Russia we saw a
Deutsch-style never-say-die attitude from England – right when we also
see it from the Deutsch themselves. There was also an outstanding
efficiency of shooting. For example, it was only in the final week of the
tournament that England overtook the Saudis for shots on target – they
were long gone even halfway through the group stages. Southgate’s troopers
were shooting only when it seemed appropriate – and the goalkeepers facing
them weren’t having much luck against Harry Kane and his well-drilled
Panama). They were so efficient of
course that they even
won a penalty
And finally this
England learned how to
quarter-final as comfortably as any
World Cup quarter-final has been won in the history of World Cup
quarter-finals. Then again, with all due respect, most Englands would have
had a field day facing Albin Ekdal and a 33-year-old Sebastian Larsson in
the centre of the park. And Gareth’s England certainly did. The semis was
just about right. We deserved to get there, but didn’t deserve to get any
Since the glorious
summer of Kane but no rain, England have learned further lessons of how to
succeed in international football and ultimately challenge for major
Spain, they (and Danny Welbeck)
learned that some referees will get it wrong, and that sometimes it isn’t
entirely your fault when you come off the pitch the losing team.
Then in the
friendly with Switzerland it became
clear that playing your way out from the back only works if you do it with
conviction. Xherdan Shaqiri won the ball where he shouldn’t have done –
slamming the post inside the opening five minutes.
In silent Rijeka,
England learned how important a crowd is to how the team fares. Marcus
Rashford, Kane and Eric Dier could have had England up 4-0 if they’d had
their shooting boots. It ended 0-0.
In Spain, the lesson
was in how to close a game out and hold on to a victory. Raheem Sterling
had woken up from his three-year hibernation and had scored either side of
a Rashford goal as
England went 3-0
up against Luis Enrique and Spain.
England had learned how to score from open play. Jordan Pickford’s
distribution made two of the goals possible and left most of us in awe.
But in the second half, Southgate felt he’d seen enough goals, and so
England banked in for what ended up being over fifty minutes of
Yes, England did concede twice to Spain the second
half, but the first came from a corner and was just a superb header. The
second, many forget, was Sergio Ramos’ diving header. He had barged Kyle
Walker out the way illegally to get to the ball and anywhere else on the
pitch at any other time of the match it would have been a foul. Instead,
the referee let it stand – 3-2 in the 98th minute with the very last kick
of the game. England were seconds away from a 3-1 win. In the end they had
to settle for 3-2. It’ll have to do, lads.
United States in
November England learned absolutely
nothing because the US were awful and went down 3-0. But three days later,
England learned three lessons in that
League Wembley win over Croatia. The
first was how to come back from a knock. The second was how suitably sweet
revenge is. The third was that they’re still a great threat from
set-pieces. The two goals came from a wide free-kick and a long-throw.
England under Gareth Southgate are a weird but wonderful mix of Bayern
Munich 2014 and Stoke City 2009.
And in March against
the Three Lions learned that Declan Rice and Callum Hudson-Odoi are
capable at this level, learned that they can be a constant goal-threat at
all moments of any match and learned just how good Sterling is. He has
four goals and three assists in his two matches for England this year.
So, which teams are better than England?
France are better than England. Didier Deschamps’
side went all the way in Russia and have been decent since. They were
pipped to the post in their UEFA Nations League group by a resurgent
Netherlands side, but have still picked up some impressive results since
the World Cup, beating Germany, the Netherlands, Uruguay and thrashing
Iceland 4-0. It is certainly true that given the players at their disposal
France should be way better than they are, but they’re still the best team
in the world and better than England.
So are Belgium –
over Southgate’s team in Russia.
Their years of under-achievement looked to be over after the World Cup.
Argentina and Wales sent them out of consecutive major tournaments at the
quarter-finals in 2014 and 2016, but their showing in Russia was World Cup
final-worthy. They scored an incredible 16 times last summer – more than
any other nation at the finals. However, they somehow failed to top a
Nations League group comprising Switzerland and Iceland. They needed to
avoid defeat to Switzerland by more than two goals in their final game to
guarantee their place at June’s finals.
They somehow lost
5-2, but are still better than the
Swiss, the Icelanders and crucially England. Belgium might have the odd
off day but so do does France and every other team – it’s just that
England haven’t had one in quite a long time now.
The Netherlands are
enjoying a very exciting and promising period at the moment, but they are
still possibly a way off the standard of Gareth Southgate’s Three Lions.
We shall find out
definitively in June. Germany look
to be enduring a sticky spell at the moment and would probably leave the
field the loser if England played them tomorrow. The same goes for
Portugal, who have struggled since the World Cup without Ronaldo, and then
struggled even more with him in the team last month.
Switzerland are tricky opponents, but England are
better than them too, and better than Argentina with or without Messi as
well. Uruguay have been shocking since the finals – losing four
consecutive games in the tail end of last year to Korea, Japan and Brazil
and France. England would feel they could see them off.
Croatia since the
finals have shown just what an inspiring story their route to the final
was. They may have beaten Spain in November (helping England on their way
to the Nations League Finals) but they’ve also conceded goals to Jordan
and Azerbaijan and somehow managed to lose their second Euro 2020
qualifier in Hungary.
England out of the World Cup at a
time when they were a superior side to England – more experienced and more
organised. Now though, England are more dangerous. They
much better at the European Championships next summer. Whoops. Hold your
breath, we’ve said that before…
And so we come to the two sides probably closest
matched to England – Brazil and Spain. Both sides have better players than
England does, but both tend to pick up some really poor results and had
pretty forgettable World Cup campaigns. The former are unbeaten since the
World Cup, but have been disappointing in many of these matches and last
month drew with lowly Panama. Spain, by contrast, have beaten England at
Wembley and thrashed Wales and World Cup finalists Croatia 4-1 and 6-0
respectively. Still, age-old problems remain for them – they pass too
much, and it’s rarely forwards. They really struggled in the March
international break, making a meal of their trip to Malta and needing a
Sergio Ramos penalty to see off Norway.
England, Brazil and Spain are three very
well-matched sides and all of them could claim to have a good shout at
being the world’s third best side. April’s FIFA Rankings have Brazil at
3rd, England 4th and Spain way down in 9th. But these are the same FIFA
Rankings that rank Sweden above the Netherlands, Scotland better than
Russia and Switzerland five places above Germany.
The take-home message here is that England are now
one of the world’s best sides. St George’s Park is creating, nurturing and
improving a lot of very exciting talent, while hard working managers in
the Championship alongside galactico technicians like Jurgen Klopp and Pep
Guardiola benefit the national team in similar ways. With a competitive,
ballsy, switched-on figure like Gareth Southgate overseeing this lengthy
but exciting process, things can only be moving in one direction. There’s
an old saying that players don’t want to play for their countries anymore.
Here in England at least, that simply isn’t the case.