The festival of football that is the FIFA World Cup is almost upon us – a great way to see us through the ever-shortening gap between the domestic seasons. But there are a few Everton players who won’t be spending the next few weeks relaxing on some sun-kissed beach. They’ll be putting on their national colours instead and hoping to achieve football’s highest honour for their team.
But which players are they and what are their chances going to be of winning, or even making it through to the knockout stages of the competition? And which of their teams, if any should you be backing for the World Cup? Well let’s take a look.
Peter Shilton’s pick as England’s number one keeper ahead of Jack Buckland and Nick Pope, Pickford should be heading off to Russia full of confidence after keeping a clean sheet in the final warm-up friendly against Costa Rica. He’d also put in a full 90 minutes in England’s 2-1 victory over Nigeria when Gareth Southgate said that his selection was “a bit of a statement”.
As to England’s chances of progressing through the group stage most pundits think we can be reasonably optimistic. Although it’s a relatively young and inexperienced team the recent performances have been solid and we’ve not lost a game since being beaten by France in June 2017. We’re also in a group where Tunisia and Panama shouldn’t present much of a problem, although Belgium may do. But then there’s our record of always faltering as the stakes get higher and this tournament may be no exception.
You probably don’t need reminding that at £45 million midfielder Sigurdsson has been Everton’s most expensive ever signing to date. Although he has been announced as a member of the 23-man squad travelling to Russia, he picked up a troubling knee injury that brought his Premier League season to a premature end in March. But he has stated that he is determined to be fully fit for when the tournament starts for Iceland on June 16th.
Although Iceland were one of the big surprises of Euro 16 – as no England fan can possibly forget – the task in Russia will be a huge one for their team. For example, in their first match they’re up against Argentina and they will also have to overcome Croatia and Nigeria too. So, however much the 340,000-odd population of Iceland may wish for it, this seems like a very high mountain to climb.
Everton, and Senegal, are very lucky to have Idrissa Gueye as a defensive midfielder. In stats compiled at the end of last season, he was found to be the player who made the second highest number of tackles in the Premier League notching up 113 and only being beaten by Leicester’s Wilfred Ndidi with 138. What’s more, he’s a clean tackler with only 42 fouls to his name. So however hard the other teams come at him in Russia, he certainly has the skills to neutralise them.
In terms of the Senegalese team itself, manager Aliou Cisse has already been part of a squad that greatly overperformed in Seoul in 2002 when they beat reigning champions, France to go through to the quarter finals. In the qualification stages Senegal were one of the best performing African sides and Cisse has been credited with bringing real discipline to the team. But with Poland, Colombia and Japan in their group, they do face some potentially tricky opposition.
How the three, and their respective nations, will do remains to be seen. But Everton fans should not be too disheartened by the fact that so few players will be taking part in the tournament. Far better to focus on the prospects of going into next season with a fresh and rested squad, determined to improve on last season’s No. 8 finish.