Ben Burgess column: Let’s get behind the Three Lions

Kyle Walker deserved greater praise than he received for his performances alongside John Stones
Kyle Walker deserved greater praise than he received for his performances alongside John Stones
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After watching an England team – bereft of ‘world class’ stars – perform admirably to defeat Holland away from home, I was half-expecting there to be some positive media stories the next day.

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Despite England missing a host of players, including Harry Kane – their best player – they dominated a Dutch side who subsequently won 3-0 against Portugal a few days later.

England had a clear game plan to pass out from the back and to enable that to happen Gareth Southgate wisely picked Jordan Pickford in goal.

He chose Kyle Walker as part of a back three alongside his Manchester City team-mate John Stones.

Walker has the exceptional pace to cover for his defensive allies, he is comfortable if he is dragged wide to defend and he also has a good working relationship and understanding of his defensive partner Stones’ strengths and weaknesses.

So of course the headline in one paper I read was: ‘Playing Walker at centre-back was a baffling move’.

There was no mention of how well it worked, or the fact that it was England’s fifth successive clean sheet.

It came as no surprise that ahead of the Italy game at Wembley, Raheem Sterling called for more positivity towards the England squad.

Sterling in particular, has been vilified by the media and the public ever since he made the decision to leave Liverpool to win more trophies – which he has).

In the game against the Azzurri, Walker was actually man of the match and despite Southgate making a host of changes, England played some fantastic attacking football.

For the first time in what seems like a lifetime, the players played with freedom and it was like the weight of responsibility had lifted from their shoulders and they could express themselves.

I’m aware that England players have been letting the nation down for years, and it’s a great source of frustration that a team consisting of Steven Gerrard, Rio Ferdinand, Wayne Rooney, Paul Scholes, Frank Lampard and John Terry achieved zero on the national stage.

I’m thinking that, just maybe, this young, hungry, energetic and less high profile team will be able to play in a system that suits them.

And, instead of trying to shoehorn players into systems that don’t suit them – for example, Scholes on the wing – they can play to their strengths.

It was only the VAR that denied the Three Lions a deserved victory.

In fact, when the Italian player ‘stumbled’ in the area his team-mates were that embarrassed that they immediately appealed for a corner instead of a penalty.

The fact that the referee took the time to view the incident on TV and still made the wrong decision was even more ludicrous.

The World Cup in Russia will be an enthralling spectacle regardless of England’s performances.

We have Vladimir Putin threatening to use the whole event as a publicity stunt to prove the strength of his country.

There will also be the constant threat of harm to fans and players thanks to the animosity between the hosts and a variety of countries, including England.

It will take an brave referee to award a penalty against Russia – or any decision detrimental to them!

England have the advantage of the tournament being played in Europe and hopefully with a bit of positivity and some creative management, they can surprise a few people and make it through to the latter stages.