View from the terraces

2022 Fifa World Cup: a perfect storm of ‘injury, fatigue and déjà vu’ for England?

After a wretched Nations League campaign the Three Lions seem headed for disappointment in Qatar

In just five months’ time, England’s footballers travel to Qatar to compete in the first ever winter Fifa World Cup, said Oliver Brown in The Daily Telegraph. And on current evidence, there’s scant reason for optimism. 

Last summer’s finalists at the Euros seem to have regressed “into grim lethargy” across their four recent Nations League clashes. After a wretched 1-0 loss to Hungary, Gareth Southgate’s men earned uninspiring draws against Germany and Italy, before slumping to yet another demoralising defeat to Hungary on Tuesday, this time to the tune of 4-0 – the worst home loss in 94 years. 

Yes, the squad must be exhausted after ten months’ “unbroken toil”; even so, their “lack of sharpness was painful to behold”. True, some successful World Cup campaigns have had similarly inauspicious starts, but there is no way to sugar-coat “England’s toothlessness” in these matches. As things stand, it is utterly fanciful to imagine that Southgate’s team will be contenders in Qatar. 

How odd to think that, a year ago, “England’s attacking options were being feted as the most bountiful in the world”, said Nick Ames in The Guardian. Today, the cupboard looks worryingly bare. As Southgate has himself admitted, the team has become “far too reliant” on just two players – Raheem Sterling and Harry Kane: if these two misfire or get injured, it’s hard to see where goals will come from. 

Further adding to Southgate’s woes is the lack of opportunity to experiment between now and November, said Henry Winter in The Times. England play just two more matches – return legs against Germany and Italy – before setting off to Qatar on 15 November. And an unusually jam-packed autumn league calendar will mean that most of the squad will clock up a huge amount of club football in the weeks leading up to the tournament. These two factors, taken together, are unlikely to result in World Cup glory. Instead, a “perfect storm of injury, fatigue and déjà vu” may lie in wait for Southgate’s men. 

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