More questions than answers as England teeters towards the World Cup

Football – UEFA Nations League – Group C – Italy vs England – San Siro, Milan, Italy – September 23, 2022, England coach Gareth Southgate shakes hands with Harry Kane after the match Reuters/Alberto Lingria

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(Reuters) – World Cup semi-finalists England in 2018 and last year’s European runners-up were on a flurry of optimism, but things turned out spectacularly and they now only look like potential winners in Qatar.

A 1-0 defeat in Italy on Friday knocked them out of the Nations League First Division after a season in which they lost twice to Hungary – including 4-0 at Wembley – and once to Italy with two strong draws.

Their only goal in five matches was a late penalty kick against Germany, and they won’t have much confidence in the second leg at home on Monday.

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Manager Gareth Southgate had a relatively stable squad during the Euros, when England posed threats from all over the field and were strong in defence.

However, after this unfortunate run, there are only a few players who can be confident of their ability to feature in Qatar’s starting line-up 11 and the coach now appears unsure of his best system.

His often-cited policy choice of form appeared to be hollow after Harry Maguire played on Friday despite the centre-back barely getting a match at Manchester United.

His fickle and changing midfield failed miserably to dominate the match – despite Declan Rice’s bizarre claim that England dominated it.

Judd Bellingham, who is still only 19 years old despite all his experience with Borussia Dortmund, may have done a lot to boost his World Cup chances while Kane remains a global threat if he can stay fit and Reece James remains always reliable.

However, Raheem Sterling struggled for influence, as did Southgate’s favorite Bukayo Saka and ineffectual substitute Jack Grealish.

outside the night

Even the highly reliable Kyle Walker had a night off, giving Giacomo Rasbadori plenty of time to pick his place from inside the box and score the winning goal midway through the second half.

After the shocking 4-0 defeat to Hungary in June, the fans turned on Southgate and there were once again boos from the visiting fans as he stood to applaud them on Friday.

Never a man to get carried away by good or bad performances, he was surprisingly optimistic.

“In large parts of the match we played very well – a lot of good individual performances,” he said. “Personally, I thought the performance was a step in the right direction. I totally understand because of the result that it wouldn’t be a reaction.”

Wembley’s appointment with Germany, who lost 1-0 at home to Hungary on Friday, is his last chance to rediscover the crises the entire country has been behind him just over a year ago, before embarking in November on their latest attempt to end the match. What is now 56 years of mischief.

The good news for him is that England landed in a relatively soft group at the World Cup and arranged the matches in the order he wanted. They start against Iran, then face the United States before what is likely nonsense, but should win, against Wales.

Segregation must prevail in the team, but with a potential quarter-final meeting with France on paper, there must be a drastic increase in format if England are to match or improve in 2018 in their run to the semi-finals.

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(Additional reporting by Mitch Phillips; Editing by Ed Osmond)

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