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World Cup: Southgate's Three Lions ready to roar

The World Cup is just 250 days away and England will head to Qatar full of confidence after their recent exploits at major competitions.

(This article is originally published on 16.03.2022)

Southgate's side sealed their spot at the Qatar showpiece in November courtesy of a 10-0 victory over San Marino.

It's the seventh successive World Cup that the Three Lions have qualified for, having appeared at every competition since missing out on the 1994 edition in the USA.

England, who finished fourth in 2018, are priced at 15/2 to win the World Cup for the first time since 1966, while defending champions France are 13/2 and Brazil can be backed at 11/2.

Three Lions trending in right direction

England were in turmoil when the FA turned to the unassuming Southgate in September 2016.

Roy Hodgson had taken the national side backwards, exiting the 2014 World Cup at the group stage and losing to Iceland in the last-16 at Euro 2016.

Sam Allardyce was picked as his successor but an off-field scandal saw him resign after just one game in charge.

Southgate was head coach of the England under-21s and he'd rejected the chance to step up to the senior role after Hodgson moved on.

But he did agree to take the job on a temporary basis following Allardyce's departure and after enjoying a four-game unbeaten run in the dugout, was handed a permanent contract.

Greg Dyke, who was chairman of the FA, set the now 51-year-old the target of reaching the semi-finals at Euro 2020 and winning the World Cup.

After changing the culture within the squad, the former Middlesbrough boss led England to the semi-finals of Euro 2018.

He went one better at Euro 2020 when the Three Lions reached the final but it ended in heartbreak courtesy of a penalty shootout loss to Italy at Wembley.

Last summer's run at the European Championships has expectation levels at an all-time high ahead of the World Cup in December.

Historical wounds appear to have healed

A string of underwhelming performances at major competitions had left many of England's former internationals with scars.

But the current crop have left those problems firmly in the past and appear to play with greater freedom and enjoyment on the grand stage.

It's worth noting that Phil Foden and Jadon Sancho, who have become key figures under Southgate, won the Under-17s World Cup, while Callum Hudson-Odoi was also part of that squad.

Domestic rivalries were known to have caused a major divide within the squad in years gone by. However, Southgate has worked tirelessly to create an inclusive atmosphere and he's reaping the rewards.

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Southgate may need to tinker

Conditions in Qatar are going to be vastly different from those England are familiar with and Southgate may need to adjust his philosophy to get the best out of his troops.

The England boss will have plenty of opportunities to work with his squad ahead of the competition, including a double-header later this month, for which he names his squad on Thursday.

Switzerland visit Wembley on 26th March before England play host to the Ivory Coast three days later.

There's also Nations League action later in the year against the likes of Hungary, Germany and Italy.

Those fixtures against Germany and Italy, in particular, will provide a better gauge of where England are at, with them 8/1 to win that tournament.

Southgate is also likely to try and bed in some fresh faces with Conor Gallager, whose sole cap came against San Marino, and uncapped Marc Guehi expected to be given a chance to impress this month.

Wales have work to do

Wales haven't appeared at a World Cup since 1958 but they've been given a second chance to secure a berth after finishing second in their qualifying group.

Rob Page's side face Austria at the Cardiff City Stadium in a playoff semi-final on 24th March.

The winner of that tie will then take on either Scotland or Ukraine in a one-game shootout in June, with the victor heading to the World Cup.

Wales can be backed at 17/10 to overcome 31/20 Austria and the draw is available at 23/10.

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