Just moments ago, England learned who they would be playing in the group stages of the 2018 World Cup in Russia. It’s a winnable group but not one without danger.

  1. Belgium

Here’s a team full of known quantities, with several top Belgian stars playing for Premier League teams. Among their most experienced, talented players, you have Chelsea midfielder Eden Hazard, with 81 caps and 21 goals for his country – a skilful playmaker who could terrorise many a defence. There is also Thibaut Courtois, also with Chelsea – a highly regarded goalkeeper with 54 caps. Jan Vertonghen has 95 caps and has been a mainstay for Tottenham, along with midfielder Mousa Dembélé, who has 73 caps.

Another skilful midfielder is Man City star Kevin De Bruyne, who has been in good form for his club. He’s got 55 caps for Belgium and 12 goals and could well be one to watch. He could well be joined by club teammate Vincent Kompany, a veteran centre back who provides City with a great deal of defensive focus and strength. Kompany has 72 caps, whilst another experienced defender – Tottenham man Toby Alderweireld – might well be the man who lines up alongside Kompany in the middle of that defence.

Up front Belgium can look to Manchester United forward Romelu Lukaku for goals and he’s certainly proven pretty good at that over the past couple of years, however beyond Lukaku Belgium’s firepower is pretty limited. Lukaku has 28 goals from 62 caps, whilst Napoli striker Dries Mertens has 13 goals from 61 caps. However, with the experience and quality of players like Hazard and De Bruyne, England will have to concentrate and keep the ball, for Belgium will not lose possession easily.

2. Tunisia

The Tunisian national team is full of players who are frankly, complete mysteries. Some do play in European leagues, but there are also a number of players with little experience of the highest echelons of the game. The most experienced member of their squad is captain and ‘keeper Aymen Mathlouthi, with 69 caps at the time of writing. Their next most experienced player is striker Youssef Msakni, with 14 goals from 51 caps.

It would be a mistake to write them off, but with limited experience, they shouldn’t – shouldn’t – pose England too many problems

3. Panama

This team is even more of an unknown quantity. Many of their players are very experienced for their national side, with ‘keeper Jaime Penedo on 129 caps for his country, defender and captain Felipe Baloy on 99 caps and midfielder Armando Cooper on 96 caps, whilst forward Blas Pérez 115 caps. The issue for Panama is that the majority of their players play in comparatively inferior leagues, meaning they are once again a team that England should be beating.

Belgium will be by far England’s toughest test of the group stages and much will depend upon how the two teams handle the pressure – the England/Belgium clash will their final game of the group stage, very possibly determining who finishes top of the group. It may even decide who goes through.

(Adam Lallana gets Liverpool off the mark in their 5-1 thrashing of Hull City)

I pose the question – could Liverpool end up being title contenders this season? Or is this a step too far for a team which is still under construction, so to speak?

There’s little question that, trip to Burnley aside, Liverpool have played some scintillating football. Victories at Arsenal and Chelsea, as well as a draw at Tottenham, all represent great results – 7 out of 9 points from tough trips to London is great in anyone’s book. Added to that are two positive home wins – 4-1 against Leicester and 5-1 against Hull. Goals have so far been pretty easy to come by, with a number of players on the scoresheet (and with Daniel Sturridge still to find his form, there are more goals to come). However, there’s a note of concern in each and every one of our league victories – not one clean sheet. In fact, not one clean sheet at all in the league so far.

This is Liverpool’s Achilles’ Heel. Whilst there are signs of greater sharpness in front of goal, a solid foundation is a must for any team that harbours title ambitions. The ability to close out matches when not playing well and grind out results is something every championship-winning side has done – look at Leicester last season – they would win a number of games 1-0, being ruthless and clinical and strong defensively. I haven’t yet seen that from this Liverpool side.

So whilst I would love for us to be title contenders, I think a more realistic goal is Champions League qualification. That is not beyond us.

To whom it might concern,

We are in crisis. Established figures from the footballing world have consistently failed to deliver the results England needed, when they were most needed. Our national side has become a laughing stock. Change – real change – is urgently needed. To that end, I offer my candidacy for the position of England first team manager.

I am not experienced in the footballing world (though I won the 2020 Euros on Football Manager with England), but I suggest this might be a good thing. I bring with me no preconceptions, and none of the entitlement that goes with being part of the ‘establishment’. Instead, I am a clean slate, as it were, and a clean slate is what we need.

We have watched as the Spanish and the Germans have redeveloped their game at grassroots level, and it has yielded them incredible results, yet we refuse to anything similar. Instead of dithering, we need to act – clubs must be prepared to absorb short-term pain for long-term success (and a firm system for developing young English players will ultimately benefit our clubs too). It is incomprehensible to me that we would continue to try the same failed ideas and expect different results – that is the very definition of stupidity.

We must build our platform, accepting there will be problems, especially early on, but not getting disheartened by them. With a nucleus of young and skilful players like Alli, Dier, Kane and Rose (not to mention Sturridge, Lallana, Sterling and Rashford), we may yet go somewhere, but we lack meaningful depth. We rely on the reputation of certain players more than we do form. This needs to change. The work to change the very structure of our game has to start now. Clubs – right across the leagues – need incentives to develop English players and get them playing regularly. Money needs to stop being the key driving force of our clubs.

Clubs may not like it, but the Football Association is the final authority on the sport and needs to wield that authority. As manager, I would back such moves and expect the same support in return.

Player egos need to brought under control. I will not pick anyone on the basis of reputation. I will not tolerate anyone thinking they are bigger than the team. Representing the nation and wearing the Three Lions should be a matter of pride and honour. Giving 100% in every game should be a given. If a player – any player – expects to be given an England shirt because they are somehow entitled to it, they will swiftly find themselves out of the squad. If they fail to perform for their clubs, or behave in a manner unbecoming the shirt (for club or country) they will be dropped.

There will be no club cliques when representing England. If this means enforced seating plans at meetings and meals then so be it. If the players don’t like it, they can go home. As I said before, there is no room for egos.

At major tournaments, players will spend a night at the same hotel as travelling fans. They will learn how much it costs to follow England, and the experience of being a supporter. They will see what it means to the fans, who earn but a fraction of what footballers earn, and yet devote it to following their country. They will experience this up close.

They will not be paid to represent England. This notion is abhorrent. They should be playing for the fans and the shirt. Any fees they might otherwise earn will go to charities of their choice. Goal and clean sheet bonuses will likewise go to charity. They will play knowing if they play well it will benefit not only the fans, but people in genuine need.

These changes in attitude are the first steps. Obviously I don’t actually expect to get the job, but I honestly believe these changes in attitude will teach players a bit of much-needed humility and respect. It will teach them togetherness and pride. We need that, more than ever.

To be honest, I am angry right now, and thus, should probably not be writing up this match right now. The flip side to that is that it will be brutally honest.

We were not good enough. The lack of creativity and composure in the final third of the pitch has been a weakness in every game of the tournament thus far, and our delivery from set pieces has been woeful. England fans were booing their team tonight, and with good reason – mad, overhit crosses were never going to cut it against a side that had already demonstrated they could shut teams out.

The tempo was nothing at all like what was seen against Russia and Wales. The verve and style on show in the first two games was lost, replaced by some (yet more) strange decisions from manager Roy Hodgson. Why did Sterling, who had failed to offer anything in the first two games, start? Why was Lallana, who had played well, dropped? Why was Kane brought back in, when he had played poorly against Russia and Wales?

Yet it wasn’t simply a lack of punch that cost England against Iceland. Despite some early promise that brought a penalty and a goal within the first five minutes (Rooney slotting home), the slightest hint of danger and England were in a panic. Iceland equalised within two minutes, when poor awareness and concentration allowed Sigurdsson to tap in from point-blank range.

Rather than keeping focused, England blanched. Expectations of England have never been lower (no one seriously believed they would win the tournament), but surely Iceland would not prevent progress to the quarter-finals? Surely, the players who earn so much and play so well for their clubs would overcome the plucky team from a nation of just 330,000 people?

Nope. On 18 minutes England’s defence reacted far too slowly, failing to close down a swift set of passes, and Sigthorsson, whose shot was nevertheless fairly tame. Somehow, Hart conspired to let it through, despite getting a hand to it, watching as it crossed the line, almost in slow motion.

From the moment Iceland took the lead England ran out of ideas. There was huff, and puff, and plenty of running, but the final ball was lacking in any quality. Try as they might, England could not muster up the invention to unlock Iceland’s stubborn defence (though credit must go to Iceland for their spirit and workrate). Once again Kane was taking set pieces (why Roy, why?), and even the arrival of Vardy could not help England find a way through. Rashford’s late arrival brought a bit of extra energy to proceedings but it was too little, too late. Iceland claimed a huge scalp, whilst England limped out of Euro 2016, tails firmly between legs.


Job done, from one perspective. England are through to the knockout stages of Euro 2016 and have therefore met the minimum expected requirement of them in the tournament, but a very different starting lineup for England ultimately did not deliver the incisive performances of the first two games. It would be fair to say this was uninspiring from England, against an average Slovakia side.

England saw the majority of the ball but with a number of changes to the side that started the previous two games, there was always the possibility of a disjointed or unpolished performance and this was exactly what England delivered. There was a lot of huff and puff from the players, but aside from one moment where Lallana should have done better, it’s difficult to recall one clear cut chance in the entire game. There was never any danger of losing the game, but England could not find a way through a well-organised Slovakia side, and not for the first time the lack of an end product has been a problem. With Wales crushing Russia 3-0 to top the group, England may yet end up with an unfavourable 2nd round match-up.

One thing is certain. England will need to raise their game.

What a difference a few days can make. England, fresh from a disappointing draw against Russia, squared off against local rivals Wales (who had beaten Slovakia in their first game) in a game that, whilst not exactly must-win, had certainly taken on a greater sense of urgency.

Defeat for England would not have been damming. With four of the six third-placed teams making it through to the knockout stages, England might have lost yesterday and still progressed by beating Slovakia – but it would be far better to remove the uncertainty by finishing in the top two.

The game started with England once again lining up as they had against Russia, and once again England took the game to their opponents, pressing and pushing. Raheem Sterling missed a,glorious early opportunity to give England the lead when he spurned a sitter from a few yards out –  not even testing the keeper – and England would continue to press and harry, dominating possession and denying the Welsh any reasonable opportunities at the other end.

Nevertheless, a lack of goals for England meant there was always a chance Wales might grab something, and right on half-time they did – gaining a freekick some 30 yards out, it was swept home by their talisman, Gareth Bale. There’s an argument as to whether Joe Hart should have done better – personally, I think he should be stopping the shot – but at this point it didn’t matter – Wales went into the break 1-0 up and loving every second of it.

For the second half, Roy Hodgson, who had come under fire for his tactical decisions against Russia, opted to be bold. Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling, who had both been ineffectual, were replaced by Jamie Vardy and Daniel Sturridge, and their impact was almost immediate. Vardy, playing in a major international tournament for the first time, poked the ball home on 56 minutes after a brief scramble in the Welsh penalty area. England had the goal their play merited, but could they go on to get more?

The answer was yes, albeit in classic England fashion this was not to be easy. In injury time, after England had gradually turned up the pressure and Wales sat deeper and deeper (not always wise in football), Daniel Sturridge was England’s hero, getting the ball in the box and slotting it in at the near post, having first jiggled into space.

It was a thoroughly deserved victory that puts England top of the group with Slovakia to play on Monday. For Wales – they still have three points and can qualify by beating Russia.

England like to be ironic. With a great deal of pessimism the national side jetted off to France to begin a campaign that few had any faith would be a success. This mood was not helped by three laboured, uninspiring friendly wins against Turkey, Australia and Portugal.

Skip to the opening fixture against Russia last night. From early on England (in a 4-3-3 formation with Harry Kane operating as the lone striker and Rooney playing in a more central midfield role) were incisive and playing with a good tempo. The fluency of the passing and movement was a big improvement from the warm-up games, and for the first time in a long time England looked impressive.

Not only were we keeping the ball and using it to good effect, we were pressing the Russians when they had the ball, often winning it back in their half. Lallana had a great chance to put England into a first-half lead when a good bit of play put him into the box, but dragged his shot wide of the far post when it would have been easier to score. Other chances came and went (including a snappy shot from Rooney in the second-half that the keeper knocked onto the bar), until Eric Dier stepped up to take a free kick on the edge of the Russian penalty area.

The rocket of a shot was unstoppable, providing England with a lead their play deserved, some twenty minutes or so from time. Unfortunately the victory was not to be. In stoppage time, Berezutski got his head to Schennikov’s header and looped it over Hart’s head. The draw was one Russia did not deserve, but now England must pick themselves up and redouble their efforts ahead of what is now a crucial game against Wales on Thursday.

Where Roy went wrong

Bafflingly, Hodgson did not deploy Jamie Vardy at any stage during proceedings – on a night where England lined up against a pair of ageing centre backs, surely his pace would have added an extra dimension to England’s attack? Removing Rooney – who had actually played quite well in the centre of midfield – for Wilshere will go down as a mistake. Having Kane take corners is wasteful. Tweaks clearly need to be made, regardless of the positives.

Still, the performance was a lot better and may offer some hope.


I was reading this article this morning and I decided it had to be shared, because there’s a lot of win in it. It seems to me that we are moving full steam ahead into Euro 2016 without a clear idea of who is starting where, and Hodgson is desperate to play Rooney, even if this means wasting the talents of players who’ve had good seasons.


I mean, seriously Roy? Players like Kane and Vardy should not be playing out wide where they can do no good. Bench Rooney, start with Kane/Vardy as the partnership up front, and let them continue to do what they’ve been doing all season. This is blindingly obvious to pretty much every England supporter.