Joe Santry takes a closer look at England’s chances at the World Cup as well as who will be favourites in Russia.
Wallchart stuck up; check. England flags attached to the car; check. Sticker album complete; check. Fantasy football team (accompanied with witty team name) selected; check. For football fans around the globe, World Cup fever is in full swing and there is no excitement quite like it. A month of solid football will generate moments of expectation, passion, controversy, commitment, pain and ultimately victory depending on which country you’re rooting for and it’s that essence of delving into the mystifyingly unknown that makes the World Cup so fascinating! Love Island can’t offer that now can it?
After mentioning the unknown nature of the competition, it seems natural to look at England’s chances of success in the tournament. The past two years, since England’s humiliating round-of-16 defeat to Iceland in Euro 2016, has seen substantial transformation in the England setup. Roy Hodgson resigned immediately after the defeat and was replaced by Sam Allardyce, who, after a bizarre breach of FA rules, was dismissed and replaced by former England defender Southgate. Players such as Wayne Rooney, James Milner and Joe Hart have been replaced by younger, less experienced players and, resultantly, England go into the tournament with the second youngest squad. Placed in a group with Tunisia, Panama and Belgium, the Three Lions will be expected to progress.
In which case, a winnable knockout game against either Poland or Colombia looks probable which could be followed by a quarter final against the dreaded Germany. An exit at this point would probably be considered a successful tournament for the likeable England boys who, for once, seem to be going into the tournament with manageable expectations from their fans back home. The team itself is one of the most exciting teams we have seen over the past few years and the variety and quality of forward-minded players such as Kane, Vardy, Rashford, Sterling, Alli and Lingard has the ability to change games. Just how far England can go will be dependent on how these attacking players perform but, with the possible exception of Vardy, each of these players could go on to play at multiple more World Cups meaning the best of them could be yet to come.
So who will win?
In general, it is a very open tournament with 5 or 6 teams who will believe they have a good chance of going the distance. Brazil will start as favourites but, with their talisman Neymar only just returning from injury, their rivals will hope that he’s not firing on all cylinders. The Brazilians will hope that their group games against Switzerland, Costa Rica and Serbia will allow Neymar to find his form without the team having to depend on him. In addition to the Brazilians, the Argentinians look to have a good chance of taking the Jules Rimet trophy back to South America but have struggled under manager Jorge Sampaoli after conceding 6 goals against Spain earlier this year and 4 goals against their Group D opponents Nigeria in November. However with an attacking cavalry including Leo Messi, Angel Di Maria, Gonzalo Higuaín and Sergio Aguero their defensive frailties may not be an issue.
From Europe, holders Germany, a youthful France and an ageing Spain team will all fancy their chances of going very deep into the tournament. Germany would be the first team to hold on to their title since Brazil did it almost 50 years ago and their ability to be able to leave players such as Leroy Sane, Bernd Leno and Jonathan Tah at home speaks volumes about the strength they have in that squad. Similarly, France seem to have a pool of around 30 players who would walk into most country’s teams.
However, France and international football tournaments have a very binary relationship. They either astound the World with their play, as in 1998 edition of the tournament, or struggle drastically and often get caught up in lots of unnecessary off the field issues. It is rare for Spain to go into tournaments with such low expectations but there’s an acknowledgement that this tournament signifies the end of an era for them with Pique, Iniesta and Ramos looking unlikely to play many more World Cups. But the next generation boasts exciting players such as Madrid stars Isco, Lucas Vazquez and Marco Asensio. Portugal, the European Champions in 2016, will hope to replicate their success on the World stage but being placed in a group with Spain means their route to the final is tricky from the very start. England’s group rivals Belgium will also expect a good tournament performance under former Everton and Wigan manager Roberto Martinez.
The Greatest Event in the World
There is no doubt that one whole month of seeing the World’s best football players is an incredible phenomenon and it should be enjoyed for what it is, a blessing and a gift. But as Christians we believe that there was an even greater event when Jesus Christ came to Earth and took our sin and shame away when he was crucified on a cross. The team from Christians In Sport have produced some remarkable resources named ‘The Greatest Event’ in which they draw on comparisons between that great event 2000 years ago and the World Cup. They focus particularly on those moments and feelings mentioned in the first paragraph of this article.
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EXPECTATION – As Jesus came to Earth people asked the question of this man, expecting him to be a great King.
PASSION – God loved us so much that he sent his own son to die in our place. The ultimate display of passion!
CONTROVERSY – Jesus divided opinions when he was living and this has continued for centuries. People have always debated was this man just a good teacher, a mad man or the son of God?
COMMITMENT – When Jesus came to earth he was beaten, scorned, shamed and crucified. He went to the cross for the sake of those whom the father loved and he died in their place.
PAIN – The cross was brutal and not only was there real physical pain for Jesus but he took on the weight of the sins of the world on his shoulders.
VICTORY – Jesus died on the cross for our sins but death could not hold him. He defeated death and rose again from the grave, proving he is who he said he was and that he had authority to forgive sins and the power to beat death and offer us eternal life.