From a laughing stock to Lion Ready to Roar: Football's inventors take on Tunisia with hopes for a better show

Amol Gokhale
Sunday, 17 June 2018

From our fans’ point of view, they’re enjoying seeing young players come into the squad. Everyone at home wants England to win but they want to see them play well and enjoy their football and that’s what I want as a coach. So if we can marry those things and the environment is right, then we think results become part of that process.

- Gareth Southgate
(England manager)

One meme went viral after England's 2014 World Cup exit in the first round. It went like this, “Even a tea bag lasts more than two dips in the cup.”

The classic reference of England's favourite drink summed up everything for the stalwarts of English football, who failed to fire in the group of death and were out of the tournament even before they played the final group game.

Two years later, in Euro 2016, they were once again the laughing stock of world football losing to Iceland 2-1 in the round of 16. After the debacle in the European championship, in came Sam Allardyce, who lasted for whole 66 days, as a sting operation involving third-party investment in players, ended his regime.

Despite having arguably the best football league in the world, it's the failure on the biggest stage of world football is what has hurt Three Lions the most. The third-place finish in Euro 1996 is what they have to show so far after 1966 World Cup triumph, the wait is 52 years long and counting.

Sidhi Baat No Bakwas
'Sidhi Baat No Bakwas' the tagline of a popular soft drink, sums up England manager Gareth Southgate's tenure as the England coach ever since he took charge of the team in September 2016. 

On Friday, in a press conference, English defender Danny Rose revealed that team got their message that the manager is someone not to be messed with when he dropped the then captain Wayne Rooney from the squad in 2016.

The 47-year-old manager named his final 23-man squad for the World Cup on May 17. His message was clear. Players know how they had performed this season, they know whether they will make the cut or not, no point in keeping them guessing. 

There was no room for underperformers, no matter whether you are the first-choice keeper Joe Hart, Adam Lallana, Chris Smalling or even Arsenal's Jack Wilshere.

Case closed. 

Players know the starting XI
Youngsters were given the chance to prove their worth. Jordan Pickford, Nick Pope and Jack Butland were named three keepers. Dele Alli, Marcus Rashford, Jesse Lingard, Harry Maguire the list goes on.

Harry Kane, who outscored both Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo in 2017, is expected to lead from the front, as Southgate has already told his players the starting XI, with nine players supposed to make their World Cup debut.

“The players know the team for the first game already,” said Southgate. “We have been working on a system of play we think suits the players we have available and the style of play we want to implement as well.

What Southgate is trying to do here is try and make things simple for the team and so far the dividends are paying. They went through their qualifying campaign unbeaten and are gathering pace.

Time to deliver
In Russia, they have been handed a kind draw in Group G with Belgium, Tunisia and debutants Panama. It certainly is time to deliver, without bucking under the pressure of the big stage.

Tunisia, who managed to hold Poland and Turkey and frustrate Spain in recent friendlies, will certainly won't give up easily but are unlikely to threaten young English guns. And comes this 'But' with the England side, as one can never know when they will falter.

England hopes at every major tournament - their team will do better than the last time. And the dreams come crashing to the ground. This time England must deliver, for the fans back at home and for the ones who will be having a costly trip to Russia, as they might end up spending around five thousand pounds.

Three Lions hope--The memes of 2014 are dead and buried.

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