After a decade of bitter controversy, the World Cup in Qatar is now only eight months away.
Whatever happens once the tournament kicks off in November, it is destined to be remembered for issues off the pitch. Qatar’s human rights record and the appalling treatment of workers who have built much of its World Cup infrastructure have been in the spotlight again this week, with Norwegian Football Federation president Lise Klaveness telling the FIFA Congress: “In 2010 World Cups were awarded by FIFA in unacceptable ways with unacceptable consequences. Human rights, equality and democracy – the core interests of football – were not in the starting XI.”
The England squad have also addressed human rights abuses in the Gulf state, with the players holding a meeting, headed by Gareth Southgate, on Tuesday to talk about a collective response. Harry Kane has admitted he has “conflicting feelings” about playing in Qatar, while Jordan Henderson has said that some of the issues the squad have discussed are “horrendous”.
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Nonetheless, Southgate and the players are now tasked with preparing for the tournament as best they can. For the manager, the hardest job will be to choose his final 23-man squad.
With England arguably able to draw from a deeper pool of talent than at any time in the modern era, Southgate has some big decisions to make. While his thinking will no doubt be influenced by club form and international performances in the interim, there are several players who didn’t feature during this international break who ought to get a look in.
That will, of course, mean that others have to miss out. Here’s who we reckon should make the cut.

GOALKEEPERS

There are no big selection dilemmas between the sticks, with Jordan Pickford still England’s clear first choice. He may be in the midst of a difficult season with Everton but he is one of Southgate’s trusted lieutenants and, while there may have to be a rethink if Frank Lampard’s side are relegated come May, he seems to be relatively secure at international level.
That could change if Aaron Ramsdale continues his fine form for Arsenal, mind, even if he didn’t link up with the squad for this international break owing to injury. Nick Pope is an excellent deputy and did well in the 3-0 win against Ivory Coast, even if he didn’t have masses to do against England’s 10-man opponents.
On the plane: Jordan Pickford, Aaron Ramsdale, Nick Pope.

DEFENCE

Now, here’s where it gets tricky. One notable absentee from recent squads is Fikayo Tomori, who has been excellent for AC Milan this season as the Rossoneri have climbed to the summit of Serie A.
While he doesn’t have a huge amount of time to get up to speed at international level before the World Cup – Southgate would need to integrate him into the squad and give him playing time in England’s Nations League fixtures during the summer and autumn – Tomori is hard to overlook on form. If he wins the Scudetto this term and continues to perform well in Italy, he could force his way in at the expense of Conor Coady who, despite being heralded for his contribution behind the scenes, ultimately didn’t make an appearance at Euro 2020.
Between them, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Reece James have the right-back spot covered even if, had his season not been disrupted by injury, Kieran Tripper might be in with a shout. Despite the boos which greeted Harry Maguire at Wembley this week he, like Pickford, is one of Southgate’s trusted deputies, while Ben White and John Stones have the strongest claims to the other centre-back spots.
White can serve as emergency cover at right-back, as he did against Ivory Coast, while James can fill in as a right-sided centre-back, making them especially versatile picks. That leaves England a little light at left-back with Luke Shaw as their sole specialist owing to Ben Chilwell’s injury troubles but, luckily, Bukayo Saka can drop back and fill in there if he has to.
On the plane: Trent Alexander-Arnold, Reece James, Harry Maguire, Ben White, Fikayo Tomori, John Stones, Luke Shaw.

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MIDFIELD

While Kalvin Phillips has also had a difficult season owing to injury, Southgate will surely want the option to reprise the Rice-Phillips midfield axis from Euro 2020. It may not be the most popular set-up among supporters but, at its best, it transforms England from a fizzing collection of talent into a tight, disciplined unit of the sort that generally dominates international tournaments.
Though it seems harsh to leave out James Ward-Prowse given how hard he’s worked to force his way into the England set-up and his set-piece specialism, Southgate has three youngsters in Jude Bellingham, Conor Gallagher and Emile Smith Rowe who are in hugely exciting form. Add in Jordan Henderson for his leadership qualities and experience and, all in all, that seems like a good mix.
On the plane: Declan Rice, Kalvin Phillips, Jude Bellingham, Conor Gallagher, Jordan Henderson, Emile Smith Rowe.

FORWARDS

As for England’s forward line, the biggest question is the status of Marcus Rashford. While there’s no denying that he’s badly out of sorts at the moment, he still has time to turn that around and reclaim his place in the squad.
While Tammy Abraham has been prolific for Roma this season with 23 goals in all competitions, Rashford’s ability to play in multiple positions makes him a more versatile option. If – and it’s a big if – he can rediscover his form and confidence, he deserves another chance to make his mark at a major tournament.
Phil Foden, Mason Mount and Jack Grealish all double up as midfield options and, while Grealish has had a mixed first season with Manchester City, they have all put down roots in the England set-up. Saka, as mentioned, can double up as an emergency left-back, while his impact for Arsenal this season makes him almost indispensable.
Barring some unforeseen cataclysm, Harry Kane will lead the line for England. That leaves space for Raheem Sterling, the mercurial genius that glues it all together.
On the plane: Phil Foden, Mason Mount, Jack Grealish, Bukayo Saka, Marcus Rashford, Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling.
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