As 2021 gives way for 2022, the England national teams aim to make this year better than the last. For both the men’s and women’s seniors, that’ll take some doing. Both enjoyed excellent calendar years last time out. How can they go one better this year? And what can England fans look forward to this year? 2022 may be the Chinese Year of the Tiger, but England hope to make it a year for the Lions and the Lionesses.
How to top the second-most successful year in your history: make this the new most successful, of course. And England have a chance. Their only major tournament win was of course the 1966 World Cup, which they won on home soil. If England won the World Cup this December in Qatar, that would surely overtake that 56-year-old achievement and become the best moment in the national team’s history.
Gareth Southgate’s side are also enjoying a long unbeaten streak — if you count the penalty shootout defeat to Italy in the final to indeed be a draw, that is. They haven’t lost a match in normal or extra time falling 2–0 to Roberto Martínez’s Belgium in a November 2020 Nations League group match. Since then, England have tallied 16 wins and four draws from 20 matches.Embed from Getty Images
But that run will come under severe threat in 2022, which will be a year of difficult matches. Last year, by comparison, saw a number of very winnable World Cup qualifiers sandwiching a run to the European Championships final that was certainly favourable. Capable though they were, Ukraine in the quarter-finals and Denmark in the semi-finals were not vintage footballing opponents. England knocked out both.
2022 offers new, harder tests. After two March friendlies against undecided opponents likely to be of a high calibre, England head into a new Nations League campaign. In their group: Euro conquerors Italy, Hansi Flick’s new-look Germany, and Hungary. Following home and away ties with these three in June and September, they turn their attention to Qatar and to a first-ever winter World Cup.
Madness though it is, it offers Southgate’s side another very real chance for silverware. Ex-Brazil ace Roberto Carlos believes they are favourites. At the very least, it’s certainly unwise to rule the Three Lions out. Of the four semi-finalists at the 2018 World Cup — all of which were European sides — only England kicked on and reached the last four at Euro 2020.
No England players retired from international duty following the European Championships, owing to the fact Southgate has such a young side. And while his Euro stars look set to remain available and — for the most part — in good form, other players are forcing themselves into the reckoning. Emile Smith Rowe, Aaron Ramsdale and Conor Gallagher were the final three senior debutants of 2021. All three have had outstanding seasons so far, and will push the more established squad members right the way for a place on the plane.Embed from Getty Images
Elsewhere, there are England players from the past who will be equally desperate to lug themselves back into contention. Jesse Lingard, Nick Pope, Fikayo Tomori, James Maddison and Newcastle United’s most recent signing Kieran Trippier could all come back into the fold. Eric Dier and even Dele Alli will have been watching last summer with bittersweet feeling as well.
With two chances to see their side lift major silverware this year (or somewhat major in the case of the Nations League), fans of the Three Lions can look forward to a thrilling 12 months ahead.
As can supporters of the Lionesses. A year later than planned — and we all know why — England will finally get a chance to host the women’s Euros again for the first time since 2005. They have hardly been tested in World Cup qualifying since new manager Sarina Wiegman replaced interim coach Hege Riise in September. Wiegman won the very last edition of the Euros of course, guiding her nation the Netherlands to a maiden major trophy in international football.
England have landed themselves in about as easy a group as was possible. Joining them and neighbours and tournament debutants Northern Ireland are Austria and Norway. Wiegman is fully expected to guide the Lionesses out of the group. After that, everyone left in the competition becomes a contender.Embed from Getty Images
Before that, the Lionesses start their year at a brand new home competition entitled the Arnold Clark Cup. The FA felt trudging round the United States every February in the hope of winning the SheBelieves Cup (which they did in 2019) was perhaps now more effort than it was worth. In response, they formed a brand new invitational tournament of an identical format. In the February international break, the Lionesses will face stern competition from Germany, Canada and Spain in matches played in Middlesbrough, Norwich and Wolverhampton. That will be England fans’ first chance to watch Sarina Wiegman’s side play sides of a comparable level.
Returns from long-term injuries for Steph Houghton, Lucy Bronze and Chloe Kelly should aid England, who — despite playing largely easy opponents so far — have looked superb since the new manager took charge. Continued excellence out wide from Lauren Hemp on one side and Beth Mead on the other is an exciting prospect for Lionesses fans. For opposition defences, it is a nightmarish proposition.
All England sides will play tournament qualifiers of some description in 2022. And for some, tournament football itself is also on the way. Ian Foster’s men’s U19s side look set to qualify for this year’s European Championships. They lead their qualifying group at the halfway stage, with Aston Villa’s Carney Chukwuemeka and Tottenham’s Dane Scarlett the standout performers so far. The same is true for the U17s, who will hope they too can qualify for the Euros and make a splash in Israel in June.Embed from Getty Images
The England women U21 has changed back to an U23s team, currently managed by experienced national team manager Mo Marley. 1–0 and 11–0 autumn wins over Belgium and Estonia respectively have whetted the appetite to see more of what is effectively an England reserve team in 2022.
The European qualifiers for the U20 World Cup was cancelled, and so UEFA bizarrely nominated four teams to reach the finals instead. England was sadly not one of them. The U19 side is well on the way to qualifying for the European Championships. They won the competition in 2009, but haven’t been medallists since finishing second in 2013.
Finally, it’s going to be tight but the U17s look like they’ll squeeze through qualifying and reach the Euros in March. The top three performers in that competition will reach the U17s World Cup in the autumn.
To conclude, 2022 will be a year of international football that it’s best to stay tuned for. The African Cup of Nations is already proving that, and for England it’s no different.