To call the 2014 Soccer World Cup a disaster for England would be an understatement, after they finished at the bottom of their group. They followed that performance up with a promising start in Euro 2016 that culminated in a loss to Iceland that was considered embarrassing. With the 2018 World Cup providing yet another chance for redemption, it has to be asked what realistic expectations are for England heading into Russia.
First, it has to be pointed out that England has a group that should be easy to advance through. While they will have to contend with an elite Belgium squad, they will then have matches against Panama and Tunisia. Even if they have a disastrous performance against Belgium and all of their Premier League players, England, who are currently ranked 16th in the world, should still be able to advance with six points.
There should be no easy game in the round of 16, though, as England will have to face either the winner or runner-up in Group H should they advance. At first glance, it looks likely that Poland and Colombia should advance out of Group H, with both of those teams possessing the type of talent that could give England plenty of problems en route to another round of 16 exit in a major tournament.
As far as the squad is concerned, though, there are some legitimate questions heading into the tournament that will need to be addressed. Joe Hart may still be the number one keeper heading into the World Cup unless Jordan Pickford is given a chance to shine on the big stage. Either way, the keeper will be someone who does not have a history of success on the game's biggest international stages.
Also, many of the attacking players in the squad have lost their luster since being a part of things in the Euros. Jamie Vardy looks nothing like the player who helped Leicester win the Premier League, Adam Lallana and Ross Barkley have quieted down, and only Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling have continued to see success for their clubs in the last couple of seasons. This kind of uninspiring attacking unit has led Gareth Southgate to look at young players, including Jadon Sancho, to see if there is a spark to be found.
While it is entirely possible that England can regain their form and make a deep run in the 2018 World Cup, they will have a tough road to get to the quarterfinals, and need to find a spark to get there.