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Bland and boring or brimming with speed and talent? Uncovering the England dilemma at Qatar 2022

With the financial muscle of the Premier League behind them, England has been thoroughly disappointed in the past decades, searching for their first major international trophy since 1966, when they won the FIFA World Cup on their home grounds.

But things have been getting better and better for the traditional European powerhouse over the last years, with excellent players coming from their state-of-the-art academies, with teams like Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal or Manchester City delivering young and talented players in the past years.

With a young and energetic side, England has been close to writing history at the UEFA EURO 2020, falling only in the final against Italy, at the legendary “Wembley” stadium in London, when they lost the title on penalties, but the silver lining was that Gareth Southgate’s side was full of talent and promise to set up an excellent future.

2022 has not been the best year for England, with them finishing in fourth place in the UEFA Nations League group, subsequently relegating to League B, after delivering meagre performances against Germany, Hungary and Italy.

Coming into the 2022 FIFA World Cup, England was seen as favourites, though, but the fine line between overhyping a result and getting into the opposite camp of criticising the team openly was walked by the media and the fans, after a 6-2 win against the Islamic Republic of Iran was quickly followed by a scoreless draw against the USA, 0-0.

Branded boring and bland by plenty, England bounced back with consecutive 3-0 wins against Wales and Senegal, progressing to the quarter-finals at Qatar 2022. In that process, they scored 12 goals, as many as in the 2002, 2006, 2010 and 2014 editions of the FIFA World Cup combined.

So is England the favourite to win Qatar 2022 or are they a boring, bland and team devoid of any creativity whatsoever?

“I think the biggest thing is the mentality. We’ve obviously done a lot of work over the years with young player development and the thing that makes Jude Bellingham the difference is the mindset, the drive, the desire to learn and improve. And he has all of that. Him, Phil Foden and Bukayo Saka tonight, it felt the right moment for them. They all stepped up,” said England’s manager after the win against Senegal, 3-0.

Sure, Bellingham, Saka and Foden were all superb and all being aged 22 years or under make England an excellent proposition for the future, setting up the squad to be successful for the next decade.

But until England scored the first goal against Senegal, they were still getting to grips with the match, not creating enough chances and trying in vain to get the openings they needed.

Did that deter them?

“We’re silencing the critics. Going into the tournament, there was a lot of talk that we don’t score enough goals. That’s another one we’ve kept people quiet on. There was a lot of scrutiny around the defence and conceding goals, but it’s been solid. We’re going to keep building and pushing,” said England’s midfielder, Declan Rice, after the match against Senegal.

Bullish and confident, this is what fans really expect from England, who have been capturing the minds of the fans. “It’s coming home,” is the usual chorus sang by many during the last years, a throwback anthem that has been first sung in 1996, when England hosted the UEFA EURO 1996.

But right now, a game against France, the ultimate test follows. The reigning world champions are truly a force to be reckoned with, as underlined by their win against Poland, 3-1, in the Round of 16, or the 4-1 drubbing of Australia, in the group phase.

France also has Kylian Mbappe, the top scorer of the tournament in their roster, which can only add to their pedigree and experience, next to none at Qatar 2022.

“Against the big teams, there has always been a lot of talk on us using the ball. I think in this tournament we’ve pretty much controlled every game. We’ve had a fair share of possession, we’ve moved it really well. Against France, we’ve seen some weaknesses in them that we can try to exploit. It’s set up for a great game. These are the games we want to play in. They only come around once: England v France, quarter-final, it doesn’t get bigger than that. We’ve got six days to prepare now and I’m sure the world will be watching. We really want to progress,” said Rice.

He was seconded by Southgate.

“In terms of France, it’s the biggest test that we face. They’re the world champions. They have incredible depth of talent. Outstanding individual players. They’re very difficult to play against and score goals against. It’s a fantastic challenge and a brilliant game for us to prepare for. It’s a brilliant game for us to be involved in and test ourselves against the very best,” added England’s manager.

Win or lose against France, there is one thing that Qatar 2022 proved about England. When they are interested, they are by no means bland or boring. However, to win silverware, you have to be intelligent and strike at the right time. That balance will be key against France, in a do-or-die quarter-final on 10 December.

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