Apathy and tedium as England reach World Cup

Underdogs: England have not won a knockout game at a major tournament since 2006. © Getty

Is it time to get rid of international football? England have qualified for the World Cup, but their performances displayed an eye-watering lack of invention. Optimism is at an all-time low.

Dust off the passports, fetch the flag from the attic and find yourself some roubles. England are off to the 2018 World Cup in Russia next summer.

The Three Lions edged past the titans of Slovakia, Scotland, Slovenia, Lithuania and Malta, but it was a qualifying campaign marked by insipid performances, late wins and the sense that England are drifting towards another tournament disaster.

When Harry Kane netted the goal against Slovenia on Thursday night to confirm England’s place in Russia, many of those who attended a sparsely-populated Wembley Stadium had already packed up and left.

Bored fans made light of the occasion by making paper aeroplanes out of their tickets and seeing if they could get closer to goal than the England team. It was a “wretched performance”, wrote Henry Winter in The Times. England followed it up with another tepid 1-0 win away to Lithuania on Sunday.

England are 20/1 to win their second World Cup next year - less likely than they have ever been. For once, the nation does not expect.

The spectacle could not have been more different from the electrifying, breathtaking action seen every week in the Premier League - the most watched domestic league in world football. A collective groan spreads around England every time a two-week international break comes around.

While many of England’s best players still represent the top six Premier League sides, they still appear to shrink in the national team shirt.

The World Cup has provided many of football’s most famous moments, but everyone accepts that club football has now overtaken it. Lashings of money along with movement of players around the world have led to the world’s best players being concentrated at a dozen super-clubs.

The quality of football on display when Real Madrid face Barcelona far exceeds any World Cup match. Today’s superstars have an international outlook, and representing their country can often seem like a parochial step down.

Is it time to give up on international football?


Some say that international football has fallen too far behind. In an increasingly connected world, national loyalties are on the wane. Most fans feel far more affinity to their clubs. It would be a sad sight to see the World Cup become steadily more devalued. Best to just accept it is not working and abolish it.

“What Anglocentric nonsense,” reply millions of others. International football is not the problem; England are. Look at Wales’s match with Ireland last night: neither country has a strong domestic league, so the fervour from both sets of fans was incredible. In South America and Africa, national teams set the mood of the country. Do not give up on it yet.

You Decide

  1. Should international football be abolished?
  2. How will England fare at next summer’s World Cup?


  1. Write a witty newspaper headline about England qualifying for the World Cup.
  2. England produce a “tournament song” before every competition. Write one for the upcoming World Cup that touches on the lack of expectation among fans.

Some People Say...

“England players are overpaid and overrated.”

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
England have qualified for their 15th World Cup after winning a relatively easy qualifying group. But their displays were described as “turgid” and “dire”, leaving few fans with any optimism for the tournament in Russia next summer. We know that, despite a widespread sense of boredom with the national team, England still get higher attendances than any other European nation.
What do we not know?
Whether all this pessimism is justified. After all, many other big footballing nations would love to be in England’s position. The Netherlands have missed out, while Argentina and Italy’s places in Russia are still very uncertain. Nor can we know whether how well a team plays in qualifying affects performances in the tournament finals: history suggests it makes little difference.

Word Watch

World Cup in Russia
The tournament starts on June 14th with the final on July 15th in Moscow.
Slovakia, Scotland, Slovenia, Lithuania and Malta
Together these countries have a combined population of just 16m, compared with England’s 53m.
Harry Kane
The Tottenham Hotspur striker has emerged as England’s star player in the last year, with many pundits urging manager Gareth Southgate to give him the captaincy.
Sparsely-populated Wembley Stadium
Wembley has a capacity of 90,000; it was not full but, despite high ticket prices and the prospect of a Tube strike, 61,598 people attended the match.
England are 20/1
Holders Germany are the current favourites, with Brazil, Spain and France rated the next most likely to win.
Movement of players
Last season, 69% of Premier League players were foreign - comfortably the highest rate in Europe.
Wales’s match with Ireland
Ireland won 1-0, qualifying for the play-off round and knocking Wales out.


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