2022 World Cup: Favourites, but England not in high spirits
The first match of a World Cup is always tricky. Nerves, excitement and the burden of expectations can bog down even the coolest ones. And if the team is England, then it’s all the more difficult.
Constantly kept under the scanner by an overzealous media, the pressure from fans make the atmosphere so stifling that England often fail to make it count on football’s biggest stage. Their journey in the 2022 World Cup begins on Monday against Iran who can pose a few problems for Gareth Southgate’s men.
Iran are witnessing political turmoil at home, with protests and deaths dominating the headlines. That had prompted a section of the Western media to call for Iran to be barred from the tournament.
While that was too farfetched, Infantino on Saturday had said it’s not nations who play, it’s two teams and their players. “Do not divide, try to unite,” he had said. Still, given the volatile situation in Tehran, Iran will definitely be one of the most scrutinised teams in this World Cup.
Bayer Leverkusen striker Sardar Azmoun has voiced his support for protesters, Iran’s former great Ali Daei has refused to attend the tournament and there is talk of Iran’s players not singing the anthem or celebrating goals.
Winger Alireza Jahanbakhsh, however, said this week that the players were focused only on trying to go past the group phase for the first time in their history. “What I learned has always been to respect the jersey, to respect the Team Melli no matter what,” he told reporters here.
England captain HarryKane, on the other hand, has decided to defy Fifa and the FA and will risk a fine by wearing the “One Love” armband on Monday at the Khalifa International Stadium. Not just that, England will also take the knee before the game. “It’s what we stand for as a team,” manager Gareth Southgate told reporters on Sunday.
Besides that, England’s onfield woes too remain. They are winless in six pre-Cup matches and their fickle form has put Southgate under pressure. Kane, who has 51 goals from 75 caps and at the last World Cup had won the Golden Boot with six, will be the key man while 19-year-old midfielder Jude Bellinghamcould be Southgate’s trump card.
Bellingham is one of the best things to happen to England football in recent memory and his presence in the midfield will be a great boost. Bukayo Saka too is young and fast but how Southgate utilizes him remains to be seen.
Southgate’s critics say he hasn’t been brave with the youngsters. That’s not way off the mark.