Nine years ago, then FA chairman Greg Dyke boldly declared that England’s ambition was to win the World Cup in 2022. It was obviously ridiculous. England? Win? A World Cup? Behave.
How times have changed. After reaching the semi-finals at Russia 2018 and coming within a shootout of conquering Euro 2020, the idea of England winning the World Cup for the first time in 56 years is no longer quite so far-fetched.
Sure, there are major caveats to those dreams. They haven’t won in six games, a drought that includes two defeats to Hungary. There are injuries to important players, most notably Reece James. And Gareth Southgate’s only tactic – try and go 1-0 up, then panic – has been ruthlessly dismantled in the Nations League.
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But it wouldn’t be a World Cup year without trying to jump aboard the hype train and belting out Three Lions in the shower every morning. And with that in mind, we’re asking a question that will no doubt backfire. Suppose England could win it…what would the path to glory look like?
England escaped with what appears, on paper anyway, a pretty straightforward draw. They will be overwhelming favourites to top a group also containing Iran, United States and Wales.
There’s nothing the English like doing more than getting carried away during a World Cup – until, suddenly, it’s extra time and it dawns on everyone that no one can pass the ball five yards – but even the Welsh would concede England are favourites to top this group.
Anyway, here’s the match schedule for Group B:
|England v Iran||November 21||13:00||Khalifa International Stadium|
|United States v Wales||November 21||19:00||Ahmad bin Ali Stadium|
|Wales v Iran||November 25||10:00||Ahmad bin Ali Stadium|
|England v United States||November 25||19:00||Al Bayt Stadium|
|Wales v England||November 29||19:00||Ahmad bin Ali Stadium|
|Iran v United States||November 29||19:00||Al Thumama Stadium|
Southgate’s troops begin their campaign against Iran on November 21 – a game that screams forgettable goalless draw and YouGov polls calling for Jack Grealish to start the next game.
Then come the Rob Green flashbacks when England square off against the United States on November 25, before their group concludes with a historic Battle of Britain against Wales on November 29.
Assuming all goes to plan and England finish in the top two, it’s onto the knockouts…
Round of 16
England’s reward for topping Group B will be a match on December 4 against the runners-up of Group A, which features hosts Qatar, Ecuador, Senegal or the Netherlands.
The Dutch are unbeaten in 15 matches, while Senegal will likely take this year’s ‘dark horses’ moniker, so expect it to be one of those two. Deep down though, Southgate will be praying for Ecuador. Their last five results? 1-0, 0-0, 1-0, 0-0, 0-0. That’s entertainment.
If England finish as runners-up in Group B, they would meet the winners of Group A on December 3. The Dutch, probably.
This is where it starts to get spicy. If England win their group, and progress through the last 16, then it is likely defending champions France await in the quarter-finals on December 10.
Those hoping England therefore try to ‘fix’ their group and finish second – as they did in 2018 – should advise with caution. That route would leave them facing a clash with the Group C winners or Group D runners-up on December 9, likely meaning a reunion with great rivals Argentina.
Who’s getting excited? England are just TWO games away from winning the World Cup, albeit in our fictional universe. But still, TWO games.
Obviously we’re now deep into the land of speculation, but in the scenario where England win their group, they can expect to the face either the winners of Group F or Group H – almost certainly Belgium or Portugal – in the last four on December 14.
If they go through as group runners-up, then any one of Spain, Germany or Brazil should lie in wait on December 13. Ominous.
Gareth Southgate, a master key to every heart in a nation is now just one win away. And England will get a tough examination, should they make it, in the final showdown on December 18 at the Lusail Iconic Stadium.
If England reach the World Cup final as group winners, they can expect to face Brazil, Spain or Germany.
If they finish second behind one of Iran, USA or Wales in Group B, and yet still somehow manage to sneak into the final, then they can look forward to a likely showdown with one of France, Belgium or Portugal.
England’s predicted path to World Cup glory
As Group B winners:
|Last 16||Senegal||December 4||19:00||Al Bayt Stadium|
|Quarter-finals||France||December 10||19:00||Al Bayt Stadium|
|Semi-finals||Belgium/Portugal||December 14||19:00||Al Bayt Stadium|
|Final||Spain/Germany/Brazil||December 18||15:00||Lusail Iconic Stadium|
As Group B runners-up:
|Last 16||Netherlands||December 3||15:00||Khalifa International Stadium|
|Quarter-finals||Argentina||December 9||19:00||Lusail Iconic Stadium|
|Semi-finals||Spain/Germany/Brazil||December 13||19:00||Lusail Iconic Stadium|
|Final||France/Belgium/Portugal||December 18||15:00||Lusail Iconic Stadium|
It’s. Coming. Home.
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