Ambition England has been building to this tournament off the field for almost a decade: The Football Association set winning the 2022 World Cup as a target as long ago as 2013. That has long since been disregarded as policy, but in practice England should be a contender. It reached the semifinals in 2018 and made the final of the European Championship in 2021. Its time is coming.
The Surprise Over the last year, Manager Gareth Southgate has been accused of being too loyal — mainly to Harry Maguire — and not loyal enough, principally to Trent Alexander-Arnold. Both are on the team this time, but the real surprise was the inclusion of James Maddison, the Leicester City playmaker who has been studiously ignored for most of Southgate’s tenure.
Key Question The suspicion, in England, is that Southgate is too cautious to make use of a talented generation of attacking players, and that England’s dreams will be undone by a lack of either ambition or self-confidence. He must weigh the rewards of cutting loose against the risk of exposing his team’s vulnerabilities.