It would probably have been good if someone had translated for the English what the German international Thomas Müller had to say after the World Cup dress rehearsal between the two countries as part of the Nations League about two months ago. Despite a mixed international year for the DFB team with just one win in seven games, Müller presented himself to the cameras with the self-confident attitude of a serial winner at Wembley Stadium, the sanctuary of island football, and sounded that the preliminary results of the tournament would not matter to him interested because it is “not about the big stage”.
He, Müller, trusts that Germany will revive “the tournament team myth” at the world tournament in Qatar anyway. What he meant by that: We are the Germans! We know how to win! And we will be there when it matters!
It’s a great asset for the Germans at World Championships to have won the tournament four times. The successes of the past still have an effect today – both internally and externally: they promote self-confidence and create an aura. This basic trust in one’s own strength is one of the so-called German virtues, which can neither be trained nor bought, but which only comes about through victories – and one of which the English despair. In the motherland of football, too, one would like to shout to one another that everything will turn out well. But what legend should the English, who have never won a tournament outside the country’s borders, strive for? And even the only World Cup home win in 1966 was more than 56 years ago.
Captain Harry Kane is just two goals away from catching Wayne Rooney
If there’s a kind of recurring tournament myth with the Three Lions, it’s that almost every major event has gone home in shame – often because a penalty shoot-out was lost. This is the only way to understand why England, despite their exposed position as one of the favorites for the World Cup, arrived in Doha full of self-doubt. The football nation shouldn’t have any this time before Monday’s opening game against Iran (before it goes against the USA and Wales).
With a number of top international players and numerous highly talented young professionals, England’s national team is one of the best national teams in the world on paper. Unlike in previous tournaments, the players stick together and are not in conflict because of any club resentments. Underlying the squad’s cohesiveness is the six-year tenure of coach Gareth Southgate, who values little more than camaraderie and loyalty. Based on this premise, he has once again put together his selection, which is led by Captain Harry Kane. He’s just two goals shy of tying up with Wayne Rooney, the country’s all-time leading scorer with 53 goals. The 26-man roster is dominated by players Southgate has trusted for years, with whom he’s been through ups and downs. Only five players deviate from the list that he last submitted for the European Championship.
In view of the only one-week preparation, there is almost no time for new and, above all, daring ideas. A circumstance that should suit Southgate, who is well-founded and conscientiously planning ahead. His decisions have made sense so far, taking England fourth at the 2018 World Cup and second at Euro 2021. They stand in sharp contrast to his all-careless predecessors in this area. That starts with the choice of accommodation: The English set up their accommodation as one of only five countries, alongside Belgium, Germany, Mexico and Saudi Arabia, in a relaxed location by the sea.
Located in the seaside district of al-Wakra, half an hour’s drive south of the hustle and bustle of Doha, the upmarket Souq Al Wakra hostel blends local tradition with modern conveniences. The hotel consists of beautifully preserved historic houses with classic thatched roofs and inviting courtyards, offers a spa, massage and fitness facilities and a private beach. The team spent some of the evenings outdoors watching movies on screens. The training ground is almost next door, which saves the Englishman unpleasant journeys in heavy city traffic – very different from the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. The fact that it won’t be too comfortable already excludes the planning of the training. On both Thursday and Friday, coach Southgate asked the players to unite in the midday heat to get used to the oppressive temperatures. Because the match against Iran increases at 4 p.m. local time – with more than 30 degrees.
Are England’s acclaimed talents really that intoxicatingly good?
More so than against the climatic conditions of Qatar and the rest of the 31 tournament participants, England once again appear to be playing against themselves. Out of the uncertainty of having not met their own expectations in so many tournaments, the public on the island is currently turning every stone twice over. For weeks and months, the concerns have been expressed in headlines that question players and coaches without much scruple.
Just in time for the start of the tournament, England are apparently no longer so sure whether all their talents, which have been highly praised for some time, are really as intoxicatingly good as they had always thought or rather hoped. And the local media even try to dictate the line-up to Southgate on the notepad because they no longer trust him to do it. The newspaper TheTimes wrote that England could reach the semi-finals if Southgate were “brave” – but if he played “conservative” they might not get past the quarter-finals. And the competition sheet The Guardians says in all seriousness: For Southgate it’s now or never in Qatar.
Most media reports read as if England once again knew exactly what is important – not to win. The chances are actually as good as never that it finally wins something again.