With so many of the big guns faltering in the opening round of World Cup matches, where do 12/1 shots England now rank among the challengers?
Germany lost, while Brazil, Argentina, Spain and Portugal drew and France and Uruguay were hardly impressive in narrow wins over Australia and Uruguay respectively.
The Three Lions may have also left it late to finally seal victory over Tunisia, but there was plenty to like about Gareth Southgate’s side in a first half that saw them create as many chances as anybody so far in the World Cup.
Winning games at the World Cup is not easy, and this tournament has already shown that well-drilled organised opposition can cause even the best teams problems – but if England would have taken just half of their early chances then we’d be looking at an emphatic victory and that 12/1 would be nowhere to be seen!
Some of the big guns have displayed some decent football – Spain most notably – while England’s group opponents Belgium also displayed some of their best work when beating Panama 3-0.
How far will England go in the World Cup? (Sky Bet odds)
Positive signs for England against Tunisia
Creativity was the big plus for Southgate’s England, especially in the first half as an XI that had never actually started an international together before displayed some real fluidity when going forward.
With the excellent Jordan Henderson holding in midfield, Jesse Lingard, Raheem Sterling and Dele Alli rotated beautifully with all three almost always on the move. Running from deep was the major problem for Tunisia and they broke free a number of times – it was just the finishing touches that were lacking.
Service from out wide was excellent from Ashley Young and Kieran Trippier, while Harry Kane proved just why he will be the man to take England as far as they go.
Another big plus came on set plays, where England won almost every header – and should have had a couple of penalties after some grappling from Tunisian defenders.
Finally, substitutes Marcus Rashford and Ruben Loftus-Cheek offered something different and injected a much-needed burst of pace. It takes more than 11 players to do well at a World Cup and impact off the bench is a major factor.
Causes for concern for England
While carving out chances was a plus, finishing is an obvious negative – Lingard and Sterling in particular need to find their shooting boots going forward but in what is always a nervous first game of the tournament they at least managed to get away with it this time.
Kyle Walker’s defending was not the best for the penalty – the decision may have been a bit harsh but the Manchester City man was in a poor position and going forward he’ll need to learn quickly if he’s to be left one-on-one with more seasons centre forwards.
Harry Maguire was also guilty of overplaying on a couple of occasion, while John Stones has been known for the same! It’s a consequence of how Southgate wants his team to play though so England fans have to be prepared for a few heart-in-mouth moments coming up.
A big drop-off in tempo was also evident in Volgograd. It could be put down to heat, nervous energy draining the players, but it’s key that England find a way to maintain their tempo, or at least find a way to play and get a breather for a second wind.
Win the main thing for England
As ever though, it is the result that’s the key. The performance was there even in a draw, but winning that first game is huge, and something of a novelty for England teams at major tournaments.
Going into the Panama game now offers a chance to grow and express themselves rather than face a must-win after a draw with Tunisia – that confidence will be needed in what increasingly looks like a group decider against Belgium.
The initial signs are good though. England’s first game has matched what most of the big guns have served up so far. There’s sure to be more to come from the likes of Brazil and Spain but it’s so far so good for Southgate.
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