While the more complicated questions about Qatar crop up for England starting Monday, one simple beauty shouldn’t be overlooked.
That’s the joy of just achieving what Conor Coady dizzyingly describes as “the greatest show in the world”. England is one of the few countries where qualifying has been pretty forgiving over the past few seasons, but it hasn’t always been that way.
You don’t have to go far back to find a time when the final whistle for games like Monday was cheered and celebrated like a league win. With the number of countries that are so desperate to participate, you don’t have to look far.
Think of the last time England had a final qualifying match within Italian borders, albeit over 200 kilometers from San Marino in Rome. The players pounded vigorously after a team with Gareth Southgate beat Italy to the 0-0 they needed.
Coady had scenes like this in mind when asked how he would react to England claiming the point they needed against San Marino.
“Enthusiastic. Absolutely ecstatic. I think it will be a proud moment to be able to tell you that you were on these cadres and made our country the greatest show in the world. This is a tremendous, tremendous achievement for everyone involved. People can say what they want but we had a job to do last year and we are now at a point where we can get ourselves over the line with a good performance and a good win to make sure we can get there as calmly and smoothly as we want.
“I’m honest, we talk about it all the time, talk about the excitement. The coaching staff talks about the excitement, the manager talks about the excitement all the time trying to get to the biggest show in the world. That’s what we talk about and I think it’s important that we talk about it because that’s where we want to be, and that’s where we worked so hard last year with the qualifications we had.
“We have to make sure we finish work tomorrow. It is an important opportunity for many people and an important time to make sure we get where we want to be. It’s an exciting time and we’re all really looking forward to it. “
Lots of people may not say the same thing about what is widely considered dead against San Marino, which is one reason the prospect of qualifying isn’t exactly exciting. If the group was a procession in general, this game is practically a given. It can be taken for granted.
That can be seen in the excerpts – five of Southgate’s regular starters retired – and the team, with Emile Smith Rowe possibly making his first international start and Conor Gallagher ready for a first international match.
Harry Kane doesn’t see it that way, however. He sees it as an opportunity for goals in pursuit of a record, especially since he has not played the group’s other three games against the minnows – two against Andorra and the second leg against San Marino.
“Well, he’s quick to tell me he didn’t play in those games!” Southgate laughed.
“With Harry, I don’t think it would be right to treat this game any differently than any other by giving you the team. But he definitely likes to play. He wants to play. We have to make sure we win this game and we still have to try to qualify for the World Cup. “
Southgate, of course, refused to post the grid, but commenting led to many conclusions as the manager confirmed that Coady would not lead the team.
Does that mean Kane is definitely taking off?
His situation actually gives this game a little more fascination, especially given all the discussion about his form before the hat-trick against Albania. Some, of course, like to dismiss a desperation – because that’s almost the case – to play in such a match as “stat padding”. It would also be fair to ask what Antonio Conte might think of this, given that players from top 4 rivals like Raheem Sterling, Jack Grealish, Mason Mount, Luke Shaw and Jordan Henderson will not show up.
The downside is that the Italian specifically wants his Spurs players to be much fitter and that Kane could arguably do more with the games than most to get them back up to speed. The start of the season was noticeably slow, even more than usual for the 28-year-old.
There’s at least a chance Friday will be a turning point as Kane comes to a head. Another flood of goals would help. When Kane starts what it seems likely, it will come in the midst of a flurry of change. There could also be a vision of future world cups that will feature Gallagher and Smith Rowe.
Gallagher’s presence means that after Smith Rowe, Foden, Jadon Sancho and Callum Hudson-Odoi, a fifth member will be appointed to the squad that won the 2017 U17 World Cup, further underscoring the success of the England youth team.
It felt like there was the slightest rebuke of the last as Southgate explained how its young players were developing and how Gallagher rose from the U21s due to failures elsewhere. Hudson-Odoi did not join the younger group during this hiatus, although it is now certain that he would have started this game in San Marino had he done so.
“There are always opportunities for players who play well,” said Southgate. “Phil and Jude [Bellingham] weren’t with us at the beginning of last season. Phil was first called last September so he was only a one year cycle to go to a tournament so there are always opportunities like that. The process is of course much easier for us when the boys can train with us with the U21s. You can slide over it for the games, we know exactly what they’ve been up to all week in terms of their training load.
“So this process is clear, but I think that would be clear to everyone anyway. I don’t think I need to emphasize that again. But these two guys earned their chance both from what they did to England and from the way they were in the club.
“It was definitely our goal at St. The next step is of course that the guys still have to play with their clubs to keep up this progress, so Conor and Emile definitely did that, they played well with the U21s and they did a lot played well with the U21 their clubs and their progress is really exciting. “
Many of the players feel the same about this game and its possibilities. It has a simple beauty before more complicated problems come.