The second set of World Cup qualifiers recently occurred, and all four of the home nations were amongst the countries competing; England and Northern Ireland recorded victories, whilst Scotland and Wales earned a point. All four seem to possess players with talent, and these talismen, such as Steven Davis and Robert Snodgrass, seem to have found form at a key time. These nations need to finish in the top two of their respective groups to qualify, and with early results seeming to suggest all four are thriving under the weight of expectation, there may be a strong British contingent competing in Russia.
England faced Malta in their first home tie of the qualification campaign, and temporary manager Gareth Southgate seemed to be seeking for a victory in an attempt to boost his credentials for the full-time job. He seemed to use similar tactics which provided success during his U21 tenure, most notably using the same formation: 4-3-3. Whilst focusing on the utilisation of experience, Southgate simultaneously seemed to provide an opportunity for youth, providing Jesse Lingard, a player who Southgate seems to have worked closely with for the U21’s, with his first cap. Southgate’s attacking philosophy, combined with intricate passing, seemed to be the catalyst in getting past Malta’s back five, with the Three Lions recording a 2-0 victory. With other teams potentially heading to Wembley using similar tactics to Malta, aiming to earn a point through high work-rates and a deep back line, Southgate may have found a formation, and a team, capable of winning all of the matches in the group.
Wales, similarly to England, began their qualification campaign with a victory, and seem to be continuing the form which enabled them to reach the semi-finals of Euro 2016, the first time they have reached this stage in their history. Chris Coleman’s side hosted Georgia; a match many may have expected the 10th ranked team to win. Gareth Bale scored an early header for Wales, yet Georgia’s tactics seemed to contribute to earning a point. The key for Wales may be possessing quality across multiple positions, and utilising a vast majority of players from England’s top two tiers. In Gareth Bale, they also possess a talisman commanding a worth of £85 million, and a man who has two Champions Leagues’ in his repertoire. A seemingly consistent start, coupled with a combination of quality and experience, may result in Wales heading to a successive tournament.
Northern Ireland were the third home nation who seemed to benefit from the expansion of teams competing at Euro 2016, reaching the last 16. They seem to have continued their form which saw them reach the aforementioned stage, and in their last fixture they emerged victorious versus San Marino. The 4-0 score-line seemed to reflect the dominance of the Northern Irish, and Laffety, whilst scoring two, may have added to his tally, yet opposing goalkeeper Simoncini seemed to be in fine form. Scotland is in the same qualifying group as England, and has mirrored their local rivals by recording a consistent start. Recently, they drew with Lithuania; a late goal from midfielder James McArthur earning the point. Scotland opted to start with younger players, including £15 million teenager Oliver Burke; the Liepzieg wideman may gain vital experience in these qualifying matches, enhancing his quality, perhaps contributing to him being in peak physical fitness for the World Cup.
All four countries seem to have had a consistent start, and the respective managers may have found teams containing a balance of talent and work-rate. For Wales and Northern Ireland, who competed in Euro 2016, with the former reaching the semi-finals, the players may be continuing their form, whilst for England, it seems the qualification process signals a transitional period for both the players and manager, yet early signs seem to be promising. Scotland seems to be motivated by the desire to compete in their first international tournament since 1998, and if they may continue their form may also qualify. Ultimately, if the players, and managers, continue to perform at an accomplished level, all four home nations may be competing for the pinnacle of international football.
Which countries may utilise past tournament experiences in order to achieve global success?