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England’s evolution: How the Three Lions squad has changed from Brazil to Russia

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Even in the smoldering wreck that was England’s 2014 World Cup performance in Brazil, there was a bright light at the end of the tunnel.

Several of the youngsters included in the World Cup squad were beginning to come into their own, and in the Premier League and select matches for the England National Team, showed flashes of their world class talent. This includes Raheem Sterling, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Jordan Henderson, all who have developed into important Premier League players for their clubs.

But there were a number of youngsters, and players in their prime, that many would have presumed would be even better four years from then, and would be players England fans could count on at the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

Ross Barkley. Luke Shaw. Daniel Sturridge. Jack Wilshere. Phil Jones. Chris Smalling. Adam Lallana.

The septet of players, all of whom when fit can be world beaters, have failed to prove they can stay healthy consistantly for their club teams and England, save for Wilshere. But even Wilshere couldn’t stay fit for England’s last two friendly matches.

Then you have the declines of Gary Cahill, Joe Hart and Leighton Baines. Add in the international retirements of Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard and Glen Johnson and this summer’s England World Cup squad will have a much different look. And perhaps that’s a good thing.

After hiring a pragmatist in Roy Hodgson who ultimately saw England fall to Iceland in Euro 2016, Gareth Southgate has taken advantage of his work in the England youth ranks to give plenty of youngsters a chance, ones that weren’t ready yet for the big stage in 2014.

The Tottenham trio of Harry Kane, Dele Alli and Eric Dier are all expected to start in England’s opening match against Tunisia on June 18. Add in Manchester United pair Jesse Lingard and Marcus Rashford, as well as Jack Butland and Jordan Pickford (and maybe even Nick Pope) and you have an evolution of young players moving up the national team ladder, as well as performing each week for their clubs. And each of those players are 25-years and under.

From England’s lineup against Italy in the Three Lions’ opener at the 2014 World Cup, it appears that just Henderson and Sterling are locked in for starting places in 2018, with Danny Welbeck potentially making the list. But after a succession of veteran-laden tournaments, perhaps a tournament in Russia (not too far from England compared to Brazil) is the best place to throw out a group of youngsters on the field in the England shirt, and see what they can do.

Expectations for England remain grounded, and for good reason considering its last two tournament performances. But with so many fresh young faces, there’s still a chance that, like their counterparts at the Under-20 and Under-17 levels, they can put a run together.

England will certainly miss out on what could have been with Barkley and Sturridge in the attack, Wilshere in midfield, Smalling and Jones along the backline and Shaw bombing down the left. But with the introduction of more young players playing at a high level, this team has the talent to compete at the World Cup, and potentially get out of their group.

Who makes England’s World Cup squad, starting XI?

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The English national team are quietly going about their business and are eight games unbeaten, with draws against Germany, Brazil and Italy plus a victory against the Netherlands in that span.

Not bad, Gareth Southgate. Not bad at all.

Following their 1-1 draw with Italy at Wembley on Tuesday, Southgate has no more games or training sessions before he names his provisional 2018 World Cup squad on May 14.

There’s no debate that Southgate’s boys should play in a 3-4-3 formation which has worked extremely well for them (they have only conceded one goal in their last six games and that was a late penalty kick, award by VAR, against Italy this week). But there is plenty of debate around the 23 players England should take to the World Cup this summer and the starting lineup too.

Below is a look at the current roster prediction for the young Three Lions squad, as the bookies currently make them eighth favorites to win the World Cup and obviously fancy England’s chances of getting out of Group G alongside Belgium, Tunisia and Panama.


England squad
Goalkeepers: Jack Butland, Joe Hart, Jordan Pickford
Defenders: Kyle Walker, Kieran Trippier, Joe Gomez, John Stones, Gary Cahill, Harry Maguire, Phil Jones, Ryan Bertrand, Ashley Young
Midfielders: Eric Dier, Jordan Henderson, Jack Wilshere, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Dele Alli, Adam Lallana, Jesse Lingard, Raheem Sterling
Forwards: Harry Kane, Jamie Vardy, Marcus Rashford

England starting XI (3-4-3 formation)

—– Butland —–

—- Stones — Cahill —- Maguire —-

—- Walker — Dier — Alli — Bertrand —-

—- Sterling —- Kane —- Rashford —-

Harry Kane hailed as “best in the world”

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Harry Kane is out with an ankle injury until next month but that doesn’t mean the plaudits stop pouring in for the Tottenham Hotspur and England star.

Kane, 24, is the second-highest goalscorer in the Premier League this season with 24 but it’s unlikely he will won a third-straight Golden Boot after Mohamed Salah‘s four-goal blitz against Watford last time out to put him on 28 goals for the season.

Still, Kane’s displays this season have once again underlined his huge importance to Spurs as Mauricio Pochettino‘s men are pushing for a top four finish and in the FA Cup semifinals as well as pushing Juventus all the way in the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 before crashing out in agonizing fashion.

Speaking to Sky Sports News HQ after South Korea’s 2-1 defeat at Northern Ireland in a friendly on Saturday, Tottenham forward Heung-Min Son believes his teammate is the top player on the planet right now.

“Harry Kane is, of course, very important for England because he’s the best player in the world,” Son said. “This is football, so sometimes you get injuries, but as Tottenham we need to play without Harry.”

As for another one of Kane’s Tottenham teammates, Jan Vertonghen praised Kane’s all-round play and isn’t exactly looking forward to playing against him when Belgium take on England in the group stage of the 2018 World Cup this summer.

“For me Harry is one of the top two strikers in the world because he has all the ability,” Vertonghen said. “You can have a plan against Harry and he will find something. Hopefully England and us have already qualified (by June 28) and he gets a rest.”

Spurs will be trying to rush Kane back to full fitness as soon as they possibly can and will surely have one eye on him being ready for their FA Cup semifinal against Manchester United on Apr. 21 at Wembley.

The next step for Kane and Spurs is to win some silverware and it will certainly be a lot tougher for Tottenham to win the FA Cup and secure Champions League qualification if they don’t have their leading man back as soon as possible.

England will rely heavily on him this summer at the World Cup with Gareth Southgate set to name him captain of the Three Lions and given Kane’s form, his name is now being mentioned alongside Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.

Kane led Europe’s top five leagues in terms of goals in 2017 and he deserves to be mentioned in the same sentence as Messi and Ronaldo. Is he the best player in the world on current form? He has to be in the conversation as the most impactful. Kane is a goal machine who also has an eye for a pass and makes everyone around him better.

Tell me a weakness in Kane’s game. I’ll wait.

Southgate praises rising star, possible no. 1 Pickford

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With fewer than three months to the start of the 2018 World Cup, the majority of Gareth Southgate‘s England squad has largely sorted itself over the course of the current Premier League season.

[ MORE: New USMNT kits for 2018 World Cup ]

With everyone healthy and available — a big ask, granted — the likes of Kyle Walker, John Stones, Danny Rose, Jordan Henderson, Eric Dier, Dele Alli, Raheem Sterling and Harry Kane practically pick themselves for the starting 11, with Jesse Lingard, Marcus Rashford and Jamie Vardy having secured significant roles off the bench.

One position, however, which remains far from set in stone is the man in goal. Joe Hart has long since fallen from his former place as the cemented no. 1, meanwhile Jack Butland and Fraser Forster failed to make the most of their sporadic chances over the course of the last couple years.

[ MORE: France blow a lead, lose to Colombia; England top Holland ]

Enter: Jordan Pickford, who started and played all 90 minutes — and massively impressed Southgate — in the Three Lions’ 1-0 victory over Holland. Southgate singled out the 24-year-old Everton goalkeeper for praise following the game, remarking that Pickford’s ability to start the process of playing the ball out of the back “allows [England] to play in a different way” — quotes from BT Sport:

“He transferred what we know he can do into an important game, a game away from home, so that was good for him.

“I think (it was) not the test that we faced in November (friendlies against Germany and Brazil) in terms of the pressure on our defense and the experience of the players.

“But, nevertheless, I think that’s 11 clean sheets from our 16 games and that gives us a good base to build from.”

“I think it allows you to play in a different way. There are moments where the goalkeeper or a defender can come and put the ball into the stand or play it forward hopefully.

“But if you can play with composure and play through and out of pressure then it (eases) off the opposition in terms of their pressure and eventually they stop running and you have more time in different areas of the field. The profile of all of that defense and goalkeeper allowed us to do that.”

Don’t look now, but this appears to be the most settled and established England side heading into a major tournament… well, probably in my lifetime. What if England are good — or, worse — really good?

Over 100 England fans arrested in Amsterdam

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100 England fans have been arrested in Amsterdam around England’s 1-0 victory against the Netherlands.

Off the pitch ugly scenes marred England’s win as groups of Three Lions’ supporters congregated in the Red Light district of the Dutch city and were shown throwing bottles and beer at police and tourists ahead of the game.

25 fans were arrested ahead of the game on Thursday, while Dutch police have confirmed over 100 fans were detained in total for several offences but “mainly for violence against the police” as clashes took place in the city center. Over 5,000 England fans attended the game in the official away section with many more buying tickets in the home end.

England manager Gareth Southgate had the following to say about the behavior of the fans, as he branded their booing of the Dutch national anthem as “disgraceful” after the Three Lions’ win on Friday.

“Without knowing the details, obviously it’s not something I want to hear because I think our players have represented their country really well with pride and with some style,” Southgate said. “Anything else that takes away from that performance for them would be a great shame.”

England’s supporters were involved in violent battles with fans from Russia and locals in Marseille at EURO 2016, while 27 England fans were suspended from attending games following Nazi salutes during a friendly in Dortmund against Germany last year.

The English FA has worked hard to stamp out fan violence over the years but given the ongoing threat of violence from Russian nationals, who are said to be targeting England fans this summer at the 2018 World Cup. The FA will be working extremely hard with the respective authorities to stop these kind of ugly scenes taking place once again this summer in Russia.