Jermaine Jenas believes England could emerge as dark horses to enjoy a lengthy run in this summer’s World Cup finals, despite moderate expectations surrounding Gareth Southgate’s team as they arrive in Russia.
England supporters and the nation’s notoriously demanding media pack have have tended to set high expectations around their national team before major tournaments in recent years, but they have always come up short of in the final analysis.
Now BT Sport pundit Jenas believes the lack of hype around the England team could help their cause, as he predicts Gareth Southgate’s side could spring a surprise or two if they can get through a group featuring Tunisia, Panama and Belgium.
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“We are heading into this World Cup feeling like England have no chance, but that might not be the case,” former Tottenham and Newcastle midfielder Jenas told us, as he attended an event to support BT Sport’s charitable initiative The Supporters Club. “Look at the Portugal side that won Euro 2016 and aside from one player in Cristiano Ronaldo, who was injured for the final, they were a very average side. They found a way.
“I remember talking to Jose Fonte about how they did it. They stumbled across a way of playing that made them hard to break down defensively and it frustrated their opponents. You don’t know how a tournament will develop and there is a possibility that England can build some momentum in the tournament if they play well in the group games.
“I’m hoping they can go out and believe they can beat anyone. They have individuals to do it and they have to believe they can click into place when it matters most.
“You look at the England first eleven and it has a lot of threats in there. Harry Kane is a world class striker, Raheem Sterling and Marcus Rashford could take a few opponents by surprise with their pace and power and Dele Alli has a lot of quality in the midfield of the park.
“I don’t think England will win the world Cup this summer, but I like the fact that no-one is giving them a chance because that is a very different vibe from the days when I was a part of that squad, when expectations were Sky high.
“We had some of the highest profile players in the world in those England squads with David Beckham, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and Wayne Rooney and the expectation was that we should be going out there winning tournaments on a regular basis. It never happened for us for a variety of reasons, but the lads this summer have none of those pressures to deal with.”
Jenas went on to back England captain Kane to make his mark at Russia 2018, as he suggested he is close to joining the greats of the game.
“I look at what Harry has achieved at Tottenham over the last three years and it shows that he has the consistency to make his mark at a big international tournament,” added Jenas.
“He was jaded going into Euro 2016 and his performances were as flat as most of the players around him, but England can expect something big from Harry this summer if he is give the right service. He is getting up there among the greats of the game and he has a chance to move himself to another level this summer.
“Harry could join any club in the world at the moment, but he is settled at Spurs and the new contract he has just signed as confirmed as much. If he does do well at this World Cup, imagine what price tag will be on him.”
Jermaine visited Pitshanger FC to mark BT Sport’s The Supporters Club, which is raising £7m for good causes. Watch ‘Jermaine’s Supporters Club’ on June 20 on BT Sport 1 at 9.45pm