A long way off trophies, but is hope on the horizon for England fans?
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After a historic World Cup victory for the England U20 team just last week, the pressure was on the first team to deliver the goods. Barely scraping a 2-2 draw in the qualifier against Scotland wasn't exactly what manager Gareth Southgate had planned, but the Lions had a chance to measure their progress with an away friendly against a relatively strong France team, unfortunately falling short of victory to a 3-2 defeat. England got off to the perfect start at the Stade de France, with Kane neatly tucking away Ryan Bertrand's cross in the ninth minute. However, once the French got into their stride they became tricky opposition to stop, with Umtiti and Sidibe both hitting the back of the net to take France into a 2-1 lead at the interval. Just three minutes into the second half, Dele Alli was bundled over in the box and a penalty was awarded. Being the man in form, Kane stepped up and confidently placed the penalty past Lloris to equalise the score. Once again though, the players failed to capitalise on their early goal, and found themselves losing in the 78th minute to a powerful Dembele effort.
The match looked like it was won in the centre of midfield; England's starting duo of Dier and Oxlade-Chamberlain were no match for Manchester United's Paul Pogba, and Chelsea's Ngolo Kante. Although the Ox is a talented player with high potential, he looked out of place in the centre of the park and instead experienced his best moment out on the wing, when a dainty, pacey run with the ball ended up with a near miss. Personally, I prefer Eric Dier as a centre back, and Southgate may want to consider that after an unconvincing performance from John Stones. Gary Cahill may have been fatigued after a long, yet successful, league campaign with Chelsea, but whatever the reason, he failed to be as consistent and reliable as usual. The Chelsea captain, and Stones, appeared to lack confidence when defending troublesome situations, and young prodigy Kylian Mbappe found himself in a number of good goal-scoring positions. Luckily for the defence, his easiest chance rebounded off the crossbar. Phil Jones made up the back three, and I thought he performed well, making a few crunching tackles in typical Phil Jones fashion. Raheem Sterling may have also found himself on the score sheet on Tuesday had he been more willing to take shots on. A few opportunties were wasted by him seeking out a team-mate instead of going for glory. England will be under heavy scrutiny in the World Cup, following their embarrassing campaign in the Euro's last year. In order to build on that performance, Southgate needs to find a solid midfield duo that can work together. Jack Wilshere had a disappointing season with Bournemouth, and Jordan Henderson has frequent injury woes, so it may be time to give Ross Barkley or Ward-Prowse a chance to shine. There is a wealth of talented, prolific attacking options available. Harry Kane is in the form of his life, and is sure to lead the line in Russia. Rashford, Defoe and Vardy will hopefully all be selected as back-ups. Young Dominic Solanke shone in the U20 World Cup, and he may also become a viable option if he has a successful season with new club Liverpool. It is crucial now for Southgate to look at the U20 squad and seek out any potential first teamers for next summer. However, trends show that successful teams rely on chemistry - so it is no good bringing in just one or two, when five or six players could all have a much bigger effect.
It was a relatively uninspiring end to the season for Gareth Southgate's men, and he will be looking to make swift improvements for the next round of internationals in early September. With the World Cup now only a year away, England still look strides behind the likes of Germany, Spain and France, and on current performances, will struggle to make an impact in Russia next summer. However, the senior team is fairly young and as time goes on and experience builds, the team will only improve. There may yet be exciting times ahead for England fans. Image Credit - Flickr Commons, William Brawley.
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