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England Gets a Have a look at Itself, and Isn’t Sure It Likes What It Sees


That this squad is slightly older, slightly wiser, is probably best illustrated by its alternative of pastime. In Russia, 4 years ago, the players spent their downtime on the video game Fortnite, all shiny colours and cartoon gore; here, they’ve been playing Werewolf, a taut, slow-burning psychological party game through which the aim is to cover your true identity (which is that you just are a werewolf). It is a team comfortable with itself.


Nov. 26, 2022, 4:56 a.m. ET

Within the white heat of a World Cup, particularly one as condensed as this, that counts for something. England was not essentially the most attractive team on the 2018 World Cup; it didn’t cut a swath through its opposition. As an alternative, it was solid and unyielding and scored from corners; but still, it could steadily construct momentum, a way of something happening, that transmitted itself to the fans, each on the bottom and watching on television. World Cups, particularly for a rustic operating under as much pressure as England, are about vibes.

The chance now’s that the energy changes, as a consequence not a lot of Friday’s result against the USA but of the performance. This, in stark contrast to Iran, was the England that the fans had feared would seem in Qatar: hesitant, reluctant, its caution recast not as a virtue but as a vice.

There are, in fact, mitigating circumstances. England, for one, isn’t prone to be the last of the favorites to search out it difficult to take care of its form when afforded only two full days’ rest between games. Nor would it not be the one team to struggle to search out much fluency when faced with an opponent as organized and as ferocious in its pressing as the USA.

And yet those mitigating aspects should not quite sufficient to assuage the doubts. That England was struggling each to claim control and to create probabilities was obvious not long after halftime; still, though, Southgate proved reluctant to show to the vast array of firepower stockpiled on his bench. He stood, and he watched, and he waited.

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