Gareth Southgate has told England’s World Cup-bound squad to entertain the nation’s football fans during their time in Russia.
Southgate and his 23-man squad will fly from Birmingham on Tuesday afternoon, destined for their base camp in Repino – a low-key resort near the Gulf of Finland.
They do so in good spirits, with inter-camp harmony at a peak, no injuries to speak of and a pair of quietly encouraging friendly wins over Nigeria and Costa Rica to reflect on.
Southgate has made a big issue of winning back the hearts and minds of the country during his time in the job and believes his young, eager side are well on the way to achieving that aim.
All that is needed now is a tournament display that leaves fans cheering by their barbecues rather than crying into their beers.
“We hope we can send people to work the following day having enjoyed our matches, I know what those tournament experiences can be like and we desperately want to bring that,” he said.
“We know we are not the finished article, in fact we’re a long way from, but I think people see signs of progress and enjoy watching us and the manner in which we try to play.
“We are seeing a team that is enjoying each other’s company, getting on well, is very proud to represent the nation. They have some talent, have a real desire and determination to play for England.
“We ask people to pay a lot of money to watch football. In the end, we want to entertain where we possibly can.
“I’ve talked before about there being a disconnect between the supporters and the team and I’ve felt that there’s different ways to bridge that. The most important is the way you play, and your performances and your results.”
England wrapped up their St George’s Park camp preparations by staging an internal match on the Sir Bobby Charlton Pitch.
Referee Anthony Taylor officiated the match, which involved all 23 squad members and stand-by midfielder Jake Livermore.
Players switched between the teams that wore England’s white and black training tops, allowing Southgate to look at different combinations.
Their next session will be held at Spartak Zelenogorsk, a dedicated training base six miles from their ForRestMix Hotel.
England are not among the pre-tournament favourites, and are priced by the bookies to finish second in Group G behind Belgium, but several members of the squad have been bullish about their prospects of winning the trophy.
The World Cup is not only the biggest prize in football. It’s also a month-long shop window for the world’s best players.
With the transfer market open even as players compete for the famed Jules Rimet trophy, footballers catch the eye of clubs to earn headline-making moves. Some players, like Ronaldo in 2002 and Fabio Cannavaro in 2006, moved after successful World Cups having already established themselves at the top of their profession.
Others, however, move after bursting onto the scene at football’s biggest stage. Here are five such examples.
James Rodriguez had moved to Europe four seasons before World Cup 2014, playing at Porto for three years before making a huge transfer to Monaco in 2013. But no one could have predicted what happened next.
The Colombian scored six goals in Brazil, earning himself the tournament’s Golden Boot award – and no less a figure than Diego Maradona contended that he should have won the Golden Ball as well, ahead of Maradona’s compatriot Lionel Messi.
Real Madrid clearly agreed, signing Rodriguez for a reported fee of £63 million – the fourth-biggest transfer fee in history at the time.
Rodriguez stole the headlines at the 2014 World Cup but Toni Kroos won the prize that mattered most, with Germany being crowned champions after a dramatic final.
Kroos was instrumental in Die Mannschaft’s midfield that summer, recording four assists as he stood out among some talented attacking colleagues. He scored twice in Germany’s infamous 7-1 win over Brazil in the semi-final, when he was named man of the match.
His performances for a World Cup-winning side made him a priority signing for Real Madrid, who were looking to replace the aging Xabi Alonso. For a paltry £20m, the erstwhile Bayern Munich man was theirs.
Germany may have won the World Cup in 2014, but the seeds for that success were sown in the previous tournament, as their young brigade, Kroos included, led the team to the semi-finals and a third-place finish.
Mesut Ozil was viewed as the star of that side, scoring once and tallying three assists and catching the eye of Jose Mourinho, newly installed as Madrid manager at the time, and he duly made Ozil one of his first signings.
Arguably, Ozil has never been better than during his three-year spell at Madrid. At least, he was a much less polarising figure for his own team’s fans, unlike at Arsenal.
ANGEL DI MARIA
It’s clear that Real Madrid love making statement signings after the World Cup, casting their eye over the world’s best talents and then taking their pick.
In the same summer they signed Ozil, they also got Angel Di Maria, who had starred as part of a youthful Argentina side who had reached the quarter-finals – losing to Ozil’s Germany. He was Mourinho’s first signing for Madrid.
Di Maria would later make another post-World Cup move, joining Manchester United in 2014.
RAFAEL VAN DER VAART
Amid a raft of Real Madrid signings, here’s one who moved the other way after a World Cup. Van der Vaart had never really cut it at Santiago Bernabeu, enduring a couple of inconsistent seasons after joining in 2008.
But his performances at the 2010 World Cup, when he, alongside Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben – other failed Madrid signings – led the Netherlands to the final, catching the eye of Europe’s best clubs.
It was Tottenham who stole a march on everyone else, signing the Dutchman for an astonishingly low fee of £8m. No doubt Madrid were easily convinced to let him go after signing Ozil and Di Maria.
Bryan Ruiz opened the scoring in the 24th minute during a good spell for his side.
However, Dries Mertens equalised in the 31st minute before Romelu Lukaku gave his side the lead nine minutes later.
The Manchester United striker was in fine form and struck again five minutes into the second half before setting up Michy Batshuayi in the 64th minute.
Here’s a look at how the Belgium players fared.
Thibaut Courtois 5 – Not much he could’ve done for the goal. Had a quiet outing otherwise as that was Costa Rica’s only shot on target. Decent with his distribution.
Toby Alderweireld 6 – Was good on the ball, particularly in the second half when Belgium camped in the opposition’s half.
Dedryck Boyata 6 – Coped well in the middle of a three-man defence. Impressed with his distribution.
Jan Vertonghen 5 – His weak headed clearance fell for Ruiz to volley home from the edge of the box.
Thomas Meunier 5 – Showed great endeavour to venture down that rank flank and produced good delivery. Was replaced at half-time.
Kevin de Bruyne 7 – Ran the show in the middle of the park and rifled an effort just wide in the second half.
Axel Witsel 5 – Was sluggish getting back when Costa Rica broke in the first half but threatened with a couple of rasping shots in the second.
Yannick Carrasco 5 – Was poor defensively and counter-attacks were down his side early on. Supported Eden Hazard well in attack though.
Dries Mertens 8 – Showed good anticipation to steer home Hazard’s cross-shot for the equaliser. Great cross for Lukaku to score.
Eden Hazard 8 – Was the chief creative force in the final third. Set up the equaliser and the third goal, producing some classy touches along the way.
Romelu Lukaku 9 – The perfect number nine performance. Held up play, made great runs, was heavily involved in link-up play, finished his two goals with aplomb and unselfishly squared the ball for Belgium’s third while on a hat-trick. Looked sharp throughout his 65-minute display.
Nacer Chadli 7 – Delivery from the right was excellent, assisting Lukaku for his second.
Michy Batshuayi 7 – Worked well with the other attackers when he came on. Showed good movement and scored as well.
Thorgan Hazard 6 – Only added to the creativity in the final third when introduced in Lukaku’s stead. Nearly scored a wonderful goal, dancing past a couple of defenders inside the area.
Leander Dendoncker 5 – Had a comfortable outing after replacing Boyata.
Moussa Dembele 6 – Was a formidable presence in midfield in the last 20 minutes and tracked Joel Campbell’s run well on one occasion.
Youri Tielmans 6 – Replaced De Bruyne and made some good forward runs. Showed good mobility.