Southgate talks new England deal and Qatar 2022
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There are less than 12 months remaining until the winners of next year’s World Cup will be decided under the lights of the newly-built Lusail Stadium in Qatar. The best international teams on the planet will go head-to-head once again when the action kicks off in November, with France looking to defend their crown after clinching their second title back in 2018.
However, Les Bleus will be looking nervously over their shoulders after a lacklustre showing at Euro 2020 over the summer.
A number of sides will be vying to steal their hard-earned status as world champions for themselves, with the likes of Argentina and Spain among the early favourites for the most prestigious prize in football.
England will also fancy their chances of ending their 56-year wait for major honours by going all the way.
Gareth Southgate’s side have come on leaps and bounds since their unceremonious group stage exit back in 2014, reaching the semi-finals last time out before going one better at the Euros earlier this year.
There seems to be a real sense that the next World Cup could easily represent England’s best opportunity to bring football home since 1966.
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Southgate’s established young core will be a whole year older and wiser by the time proceedings get underway in Qatar, while the likes of Raheem Sterling and Harry Kane remain well-placed to continue leading by example from the front.
However, there are still a number of harsh lessons for Southgate and his players to learn over the coming months to stand the best chance of success.
It seemed as though England were finally on their way to a World Cup final when Kieran Trippier’s free-kick curled into the top corner against Croatia during the opening stages of their semi-final meeting three years ago.
Southgate’s side ended up throwing the result away, though, in a fashion so typical of the England teams that fell short on so many other previous occasions.
They spent a considerable amount of time on instilling a possession-based style of play that was hugely effective throughout the earlier rounds before it was completely disregarded when Croatia drew level.
England panicked and resorted to hitting long balls up the pitch, allowing their opponents to take control of the game and eventually find the extra-time winner.
It will be imperative for Southgate to take stock of what went wrong in 2018 and ensure that his players go into next year’s tournament with a winning mentality in order to stick it out when the going inevitably gets tough.
They displayed this trait in abundance at the Euros, fighting until the very end to down Germany in the first knockout stage and clinging on for 120 minutes against Italy in the final.
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However, Southgate’s tactical choices will also need to be refined if England are to stand a realistic chance of lifting the World Cup at the next time of asking.
His decision to name Bukayo Saka, Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho among the penalty-takers against Italy was a poor one, as was the call to bring them off the bench with just seconds remaining to force them into the shoot-out on cold legs.
The England manager also took far too long to respond when it became clear that Italy had figured out his side’s wing-back system as the second half progressed.
Their tactical flexibility over the course of the tournament played a key role in helping them to reach the final, but it was Southgate’s lack of action from the dugout that ultimately prevented them from bringing the trophy home.
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His game management will need to be much better at the World Cup in Qatar in order to prevent another slip-up at the last hurdle on the biggest stage of them all.
A lot of things can change in just under 12 months and England have already enjoyed a largely successful year, with the steady progress of the current group under Southgate’s guidance still clear to see.
However, it will undoubtedly be seen as a failure if he is unable to challenge at the next World Cup given the wide array of talent at his disposal.
It will be crucial for Southgate to learn from his past mistakes over the next 11 months if he is serious about leaving a lasting legacy as England manager after coming so close on not one, but two previous occasions.
England will, as always, be expecting great things in Qatar but there is still a way to go if they are to establish themselves as genuine contenders for the international crown.
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