England’s record of 33 unbeaten World Cup and European Championship qualifiers is ostensibly a proud one, stretching back as it does to a 1-0 defeat in Ukraine in 2009, but in truth, qualification has become a procession – a procession which leads only to embarrassment when the tournaments proper start.
Euro 2016 qualifying was effectively over as a going concern after just one game: with the top two qualifying from each group, England’s place at the finals was virtually assured the moment they won 2-0 away to Switzerland in September 2014.
Lithuania were in that group too, dispatched 4-0 at Wembley by Roy Hodgson’s England. A similar result could see Gareth Southgate’s iteration extend their four-point lead at the top of Group F at the half-way point of World Cup 2018 qualifying. Yawn.
And yet, despite this admittedly downbeat introduction, there are some reasons to get interested in the match at Wembley, if you dig deep enough...
Southgate’s Cultural Revolution
Southgate makes an unlikely revolutionary but ahead of his first game as permanent manager, he outlined his vision for the national side. The defeat to Iceland at the Euros was a devastating low for the nation and, prior to the 1-0 loss to Germany, he said England need to make big changes if they are ever to challenge at the top level. Article 50 will be formally triggered next week to start the Brexit process but Southgate has a very different vision of what his nation can, and should, be.
As well as highlighting the exceptional work Germany have done in developing their academy system and coaching structures, he added:
We are different. We have to get off the island and learn from elsewhere. We have some great strengths and if we couple those with some other traits we could be more powerful than anybody, but we have a lot of work to get to that point. I'm not sure we've always looked at ourselves in the mirror as closely as we should, that's what we need as a football nation. We've had success in every other sport in our country. It's probably the hardest one to succeed in - and if we do succeed it's the one that will have the most impact on our country and on the people.
Tackling England’s structural and cultural deficiencies is a grand undertaking; the man deserves a good hearing, starting with his first home game after being appointed on a permanent basis.
Read the full article on eurosport.co.uk: 3 reasons England's qualifier against Lithuania might actually be interesting