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How England can move on in 2021 after the bittersweet Euros…

It’s a complex situation for me.

I’ve travelled abroad following England, I’ve been to nearly all of England’s home games since 2017 in the pre-Covid era, the month of the Euros was one of the best of my life, I’m the Sports Editor for a student paper, thus a deep, long, and emotional homage to the great summer of ’21 must surely be on the cards.

Perhaps I will do it one day. But at the time of writing, not only have fellow Roar writers summed up the emotions of ‘It’s Coming Home’ and everything it entails (see Sam Chadwick’s piece), countless other professionals have likely put it into better words than me.

So, I’ll leave you to reminisce about the halcyon days with their tapestry unfolding in front of your eyes. It’s perhaps my job (hopefully not as normal) to be the voice of doom, much like Gareth Southgate so often is in a marvellous way (most notably his post-match interview after the 2-0 win over Germany), to state that the current momentum from the Euros cannot be lost, and staleness must be thwarted from setting in in the three England camps to finish 2021.

At the time of writing, the September international break of 2022 World Cup Qualifiers is yet to unfold. In this break, England have their two crunch qualifiers away in Poland and Hungary, both critical. Two defeats in these games is unlikely, but possible. Hungary are on the wave of an outstanding Euros, with key players returning including Dominik Szoboszlai, and a full home crowd without England fans to roar on their side with their fervorous support seen at home soil in said Euros. Poland have slightly better quality than Hungary, including arguably the best centre forward in the world in Lewandowski, and Paolo Sousa has shown glimpses of turning this Poland side into a tricky attacking outfit despite a disappointing Euros.

Two draws in these games, or even one draw and one defeat, would probably still be enough to set England up to top the group. Qualifying for the World Cup should never be taken for granted- see Italy in 2018 and France’s two extremely close shaves in 2010 and 2014. Getting the results in this break is thus the first and foremost critical priority, with a home game against minnows Andorra wedged in between.

It is why Southgate has opted for much of the same squad from the Euros, with a few minor personnel changes, such as Trent Alexander-Arnold returning, Ben Chilwell being cut after a lack of game time so far this season with Chelsea and a maiden call up for Patrick Bamford. Normally, the September international break is the start of a new cycle and new churn with national sides in the aftermath of a major tournament, where at least one of the processes of renewal, tinkering or root-and-branch upheaval takes place. Yet Gareth, ever the conservative, has stuck with what he knows for this break.

And rightfully so- introducing revolution in this break would be reckless given the critical nature of the games in Budapest and Warsaw. There are still gamechangers in the squad (Jesse Lingard, Jack Grealish) if necessary, despite the omission of the in-form Mason Greenwood being somewhat bizarre.

By the time most people read this, the September break will have been and gone. It’s perfectly possible the break went well and England have all but booked their ticket to Qatar with a continued spring in their step, and this message of caution be rendered moot.

Yet it’s also possible, perhaps more likely, that the break flagged up some worrying moments, even results, in the two trips, that must be solved to continue the positive energy.

The October and November international breaks offer kind fixtures for England, and thus opportunities’ to rejuvenate the squad with new personnel, and break figures into the starting line-up for good, such as Jude Bellingham. Additionally, the St. George’s Park talent factory still is producing the goods, and stars continued to be uncovered waiting to be blooded in. There will be flyers from ‘nowhere’ in the lower echelons of the Premier League who’ll no doubt break in (see Ivan Toney).

Overall, the message is simple. Yes, qualify first and foremost with the Gareth-trademarked professionalism and conservatism, but don’t let the wave dissipate and staleness to set in, leaving us to crumble at the big one in only 16 month’s time…

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