Everton’s World Cup trio look to make their mark in Russia

Wednesday, 30 May, 2018 0comments  |  Jump to last

While there was a number of Everton players who featured to varying degrees at the 2014 World Cup, this time the Blues will have just three representatives at the tournament… that is unless they don't buy any participating players between now and mid-July, of course!

Whereas the likes of Phil Jagielka, Leighton Baines, Ross Barkley, Romelu Lukaku, Kevin Mirallas and Tim Howard were all carrying the flag for Everton in Brazil, only Jordan Pickford, Idrissa Gueye and Gylfi Sigurdsson will be on show at Russia 2018.

The good news this time, of course, is that all three are likely to be starters when they kick off their group games and in Sigurdsson's case, he will be carrying much of the weight of expectation for Iceland's chances on his shoulders.

From relegated Black Cat to first-choice Lion

If there was one player nailed on to leave Sunderland when they lost their Premier League status this time last year it was Jordan Pickford. Despite conceding almost 70 goals, the young goalkeeper had been one of the standout performers in a dreadful Mackem side and the enormous £30m that Everton paid for his services last July was seen as a worthwhile investment in a player who not only had potential to match but was good enough to take the first-choice goalkeeper's jersey straight away.

Gareth Southgate appears to have come to the same conclusion after his outstanding display against Germany last November. A frequent observer from the stands at Everton games over the past few months, the England manager saw enough evidence from the Toffees' undisputed Player of the Season to hand him the No 1 slot again for the friendly against the Netherlands in March.

Again the 24-year-old didn't disappoint. Joe Hart's troubles at West Ham United have opened the door for the likes of Pickford, Stoke City's Jack Butland and Burnley's Nick Pope but, unless he does something drastic during the final warm-up games, it's the young Everton stopper who should get the nod in Russia.

England are priced at around 16/1 to win the World Cup, but use this Thrills bonus for the chance to boost your bankroll before wagering on the outcome.

Assuming England progress past the group stage, no Three Lions fan will be able to approach the World Cup without the fear of the dreaded penalty shoot-out. Pickford, who has proved himself handy when facing spot-kicks — he saved one in Split in the Europa League qualifying playoff and another against West Ham in Everton's 4-0 win in November — admits that Southgate has had them preparing for the possibility, right down to handling the pressure of the lonely walk from the huddle in the centre circle to the penalty spot. He is even prepared to step up and take a penalty himself if it comes to that.

“We've been doing the walk from the halfway line,” he said in The Guardian. “We're not looking too far ahead but behind the scenes we're doing a lot of work to be prepared for how we'd want to go about it.

“It's pot luck sometimes,” he explained from the goalkeeper's perspective. “Sometimes you've just got to pick a side, wait and attack that side. If you get there you get there and if you don't, get the next one. It's like a lottery. If you save a couple you can be a hero but there's no pressure on you.

“If I need to step up, I'll take one. I've got no issue with that. I've never taken one in a shootout but I'm always practising in training.”

A Lion of a different pride

It was once Pele's contention that an African country would win the World Cup before the end of the 20th Century. Two decades on from the 1998 Finals when only Nigeria made it out of the group stage, a world champion from the continent of Africa still doesn't seem likely but Senegal appear well-positioned to make a good run at it.

It will be their first appearance in the Finals since 2002 when they shocked holders France in the group phase and made it as far as the quarterfinals where they were eliminated by a “golden goal” scored by Turkey.

Unbeaten in qualifying this time around, the Lions of Teranga have some genuine stars in the form of Napoli's Kalidou Koulibaly and Liverpool's Sadio Mané, as well as a midfield stocked with Premier League experience.

Critical to that mid-section, of course, is Idrissa Gueye who played in all but five of Everton's Premier League matches, even weighing with a couple of goals, the most recent coming in the penultimate away game at Huddersfield Town at the end of last month, and remains one of the Blues' most important and effective players.

Fitness permitting, he is expected to be an ever-present in Senegal's team at the World Cup alongside West Ham's Cheikhou Kouyaté.

The ice men cometh again

The uplifting, surprise package of the 2016 European Championships in France, Iceland built upon the incredible progress they have made in recent years by qualifying for their first ever World Cup Finals this year.

Quarter-finalists at Euro 2016 and comfortable conquerors of England along the way, the Nordic nation with just 330,000 inhabitants became the smallest to make it to the World Cup when they finished top of Group B in Uefa zone qualifying, ahead of fancied Croatia and also eliminating Cenk Tosun's Turkey from contention.

Iceland will meet Croatia again in the group stage in Russia next month in what is a daunting-looking assignment that includes games against Argentina and Nigeria.

Gylfi Sigurdsson, Everton's record signing and Talisman for his country, will be crucial to their chances of making it out of that tough group. Their leading scorer in qualifying with four goals — only Tosun (5), Mario Mandžukić (5) and Andriy Yarmolenko (6) scored more — Sigurdsson is one of their chief goal threats but also their maestro in attacking midfield.

He has not played since picking up an injury against Brighton and Hove Albion in the Premier League on March 10, however, and there have been few recent updates of any substance on his condition.

He is expected to have fully recovered from the knee problem that prematurely ended his first season at Goodison Park but whether he will be fully match-sharp after three months without competitive action remains to be seen.

With their good-humoured and vocal supporters, Iceland will be one of the most popular draws for viewers of the World Cup but as much as Evertonians will be keen to see how well Sigurdsson performs on the biggest stage, they will surely be more interested in how well his knee stands up.

 


About these ads