England are playing Nigeria and Costa Rica in friendlies before the real action begins in the World Cup. Wembley and Elland Road will probably be full to the rafters but there is very little point to these fixtures. Surely it would be better to give the players a break so they can join up for the World Cup rested and refreshed. The matches don’t seem to serve much purpose because if Gareth Southgate doesn’t know his starting eleven and the alternatives what’s he been doing for the last two years?
If England don’t progress from their group in the World Cup there is something badly wrong. The last two tournaments have been disasters but that could be more to do with management than any lack of ability. England could have hardly been given easier challenges in their first two matches. Tunisia and Panama are 30th and 31st in the outright betting for the World Cup and only Saudi Arabia are a bigger price. Belgium could be difficult to beat but by the third match England should have six points in the bag. In the context of these matches the two friendlies mean nothing.
England’s supporters deserve so much more than abject failures when the World Cup and European Championships come around. Wembley is often full even after a tournament where England have let themselves and the country down. No doubt the Wembley crowd will give England a good send off and the same thing will happen in Leeds. It’s all optimism now but in less than a month it could be all over and the squad could be back home. Even if England win impressively against Nigeria and Costa Rica it could all be forgotten if points are dropped in the first World Cup group two matches.
The bookmakers give Nigeria and Costa Rica no chance of winning the World Cup and on current form they should be eliminated at the group stage. It’s difficult to see what can be gained from these meetings but it’s highly unlikely they will be repeated at the World Cup. Conversely, neither side would wish to play a fixture that could happen again at the World Cup so getting extra rest rather than using up energy in friendlies would seem the right thing to do. It’s worth trying something new after abysmal efforts in recent tournaments.
It would make sense for Southgate to send out his first string in one of these matches and give the fringe players a chance in the other one. If he makes numerous changes at half-time and in the second half the effort would be devalued further. The tactics employed by the opposition could be replicated in the World Cup but England are playing Tunisia and Panama and not Germany and Brazil. It’s far better to be positive from the outset and score some early goals rather than struggle to a draw or narrow victory. England should be winning these friendlies and their first two matches in the World Cup with a few goals to spare but on past history they probably will not.
Belgium will be the best team England have played this year but hopefully England won’t need a win to progress. Both sides should have maximum points and the outcome will determine which team wins the group. The winner of Group G plays the runner-up in Group H (possibly Poland) and the runner-up in Group G plays the winner of Group H (possibly Colombia). Whoever England meet in the quarter-finals if progressing will be a top side so there’s no point anticipating the draw. England should embark on the World Cup campaign after beating Nigeria and Costa Rica