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England edge closer to World Cup qualification

On June 14th next year when the 21st FIFA World Cup kicks off in Russia, England can be all but certain that they will be among the 32 teams competing for the game's most prestigious prize. All that stands between Gareth Southgate's men and booking tickets to the finals are matches against Slovenia and Lithuania on October 5th and 8th respectively, so most people agree that it's little more than a formality. After all, England sit at the head of Group F with six wins, two draws and no losses behind them with their nearest rivals, Slovakia, trailing five points in arrears.

Obstacles on the way

But that's not to say that the campaign has been plain sailing all the way. For example back in June when the team headed to Hampden Park for the away fixture against Scotland it was a nip and tuck affair which had the Scottish fans' hearts in their mouths. Just to refresh your memory, the first 70 minutes saw a goal-less stalemate until Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain slotted one home. Then, in the 87th minute, Scotland's Leigh Griffiths equalised and went on to score what could well have been the winner in the last minute of normal time. It looked like a historic victory was certain till a last-gasp goal in the third minute of extra time by Harry Kane saved the day.

No doubt memories of 2016's disastrous displays in the Euros were still weighing heavily on the whole team's mind though nothing, really, could have lived up, or down, to the performance against Iceland.

Most of the other matches on the road to Russia 2018 have been rather more straightforward – although the team have been fairly lucky to find themselves in a group with only moderate opposition and without teams like France, Portugal or Germany who will, no doubt, prove troublesome once the finals are under way.

The question of captaincy

But there are still many uncertainties to be resolved between now and next June, not least who the captain is going to be. Manager Southgate has so far been reluctant to pick any one individual saying he would prefer to give a few players the chance to try out the role to see how it fits.

In terms of overall team selection it's still quite a way off so many players will be looking forward to getting the chance to secure their places by putting in good performances over the next two qualifiers as well as friendlies against Germany, Brazil and Holland between November of this year and March 2018.

Great support guaranteed

There's also the small question of the team's notoriously poor performances in the past to be considered. The last time they reached the quarter finals was in 2006 and in the 2014 tournament in Brazil they didn't even get past the group stage. But, nevertheless, their home support is likely to be huge with fans and the hype that surround the tournament is nothing short of spectacular, Slots of Vegas have even have an online slot in tribute to the tournament.

But whether the Southgate era will herald a renaissance to equal the success of Alf Ramsay back in 1966, only time will tell.

About the author

Paul Vegas

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