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Less hype could mean more hope for England

Less hype could mean more hope for England

LONDON: There has been something very odd about the build-up to this World Cup for England.
It has all been very quiet. There have been no histrionics, no players smashing up hotel rooms on being told they have been left out, no media outrage about a player picked or omitted. There have been no last-minute doubts, no calls for a change of style. Perceptions could all change very quickly with a defeat to Tunisia or Panama, but at the moment there is an unusual maturity and calm to England.
There are probably two reasons.
The first is that this is a particularly unstarry set of players. It is the youngest squad England have ever taken to a World Cup and the biggest name in it, Harry Kane, is yet to win a trophy or even be transferred. He is an extremely gifted forward, but not one, seemingly, with any inclination to indulge in the celebrity lifestyle. It is safe to say that England’s training base in Repino will not be a repeat of Baden Baden in 2006, when barely a tree was without its paparazzo and the shops and restaurants resounded to wives and girlfriends of players trying to promote their own image.
And the second is Gareth Southgate. When he was appointed after Sam Allardyce’s resignation one game into the qualifying campaign, he seemed a place-man, a safe pair of hands who was already on the FA staff. Nobody expected much. But Southgate has been quietly steely.
As soon as qualification was complete, he set out his vision: A back three and a team that played patient passing football. It might not be especially exciting, but England are now unbeaten in 10 games in which they have conceded only three times. Southgate has stuck to his principles, which meant a gentle explanation that he would not pick Chris Smalling because he wanted better passers of a ball at the back.
He was also adamant he would not pick players who had not proved themselves fully fit over the final couple of months of the season.
That resolve was tested with Adam Lallana, who is clearly a player for whom Southgate has great admiration, but he left him out on the basis that he started only one league game for Liverpool last season.
That was the one decision Southgate has made that has drawn any criticism, with some arguing that there was time between the end of the season and the start of the tournament for Lallana to get fit. But there could be no real argument because Southgate had explained his thinking in advance; everybody knew the criteria. And then, because everything seems to be working out just right at the moment, Danny Welbeck, the player who effectively took Lallana’s place, whose inclusion was questioned because he has not had a great season for Arsenal despite having consistently done well for England, scored the second goal in the 2-0 win over Costa Rica that wrapped up the pre-tournament preparation.
None of which means, of course, that England will win the World Cup or even come close — and it is clearly the case that part of the reason for the impressive preparation has been that expectations, after two miserable World Cups in a row and defeat to Iceland at the Euros, have been set low.
Of course it is an easier job when the main requirement is simply not to make a fool of yourself, but Southgate has proved himself extremely good at walking down the street without tripping over and if England have even a moderate World Cup, it may pave the way for future success.

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