As the curtain falls on another Premier League season, attentions now turn to the World Cup in Russia that kicks off when the hosts play Saudi Arabia on the 14th of June. Southampton fans might have been left feeling slightly bemused following the announcement of England’s squad to participate in the tournament, as for the first time in recent years, it is completely devoid of any of Southampton’s players. However, upon reflection the majority of Saints fans may come to realise that the season immediately behind us was a truly dismal one with very few standout performers worthy of note and one in which victory was tasted just 7 times in the 38 league games.
One omission that won’t have shocked many was the 6-capped Fraser Forster who hasn’t started a match for the club since the 5-2 loss against Tottenham Hotspur in late December. Forster was struggling for form and lacking in confidence and he found his pathway back into the starting line-up blocked by a much in-form Alex McCarthy.
Some of our more optimistic fans might have considered McCarthy himself worthy of a place, but despite after a run of impressive performances that ultimately helped save Southampton’s Premier League status, he didn’t catch the eye of Gareth Southgate. The England manager stuck with Jordan Pickford and Jack Butland as well as calling up Nick Pope, who was instrumental in Burnley’s impressive 7th place and qualification for next season’s Europa League.
One player who will perhaps feel unlucky not to be involved in Southgate’s plans is Ryan Bertrand. He made 39 appearances in all competitions for the Saints this season, finishing the campaign strongly as well as captaining the side for a large chunk of it following an injury to Steven Davis. Southgate said simply:
“Ryan had a decent season, but I just felt the others were ahead of him”
the others being Danny Rose from Tottenham and Ashley Young from Manchester United.
Bertrand, already capped 19 times for England, was clearly Southampton’s best chance of being represented in Southgate’s squad but the good news for Saints fans is that the club will still be represented in Russia by several other players; perhaps the most notable being Cedric Soares. Cedric’s Portugal will take on Spain, Morocco and Iran in Group B and will be very confident of progressing from their group even if Spain turn around the poor form they have displayed in recent international competitions. Spain were dumped out of the 2016 Euros by Italy in their first knock out game following the group stages, whereas Portugal and Cedric went on to win the competition with Cedric playing in most games including the final. Cedric has made 26 appearances for Portugal so far and will be expecting to build on that in Russia. His only competition for a starting right-back places comes in the form of Ricardo Pereira who more recently made his international debut as an 82nd minute substitute against Russia in November 2015, so barring an injury one would expect to see Cedric as a mainstay throughout Portugal’s involvement in the tournament.
Another player who will be confident of seeing a lot of game time in Russia is Dusan Tadic. His form for Southampton this season was indifferent to say the least, but he seemed to return to something like his best since Mark Hughes was appointed manager and he was an important player in Saints’ last-ditch survival bid. His performances for Serbia have made him something of an international hero, making 51 appearances for them so far and scoring 13 goals along the way. Tadic won Serbian Player of the Year in 2016, and it would be impossible to discount him from Serbia’s starting lineup when they take on Costa Rica in their opening match. No player is more deserving of a place in Serbia’s squad than Tadic, who scored four goals in their qualification for the tournament. Tough games against Switzerland and Brazil will make it difficult for Serbia to progress beyond the group stages but Tadic can draw on his experience on the international stage having made his Serbia debut a decade ago.
With 80 caps for Japan, Maya Yoshida is Southampton’s most experienced player at international level participating in the World Cup this summer. Maya is perfectly acclimatized to international competition, having represented Japan already at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil where he started all of their group games. Yoshida has scored 10 goals for his country since his debut, which he made in a 2010 qualifier for the 2011 AFC Asian Cup. Yoshida subsequently played in all three of the group-stage matches, the quarter-final and final for Japan, lifting the 2011 AFC Asian Cup. Yoshida has been a regular starting player for Japan since then and will no doubt be expected to start Japan’s first group game against Columbia on the 19th of June.
Another defender Saints fans may be hopeful of seeing in Russia is Jan Bednarek, who despite finding nothing by way of first team opportunities in the early part of this season, made his Poland debut in September. He is not without a hope of being able to build on that 3-0 win over Kazakhstan when the World Cup kicks off next month. Bednarek made his Premier League debut for Southampton in a bitterly disappointing 3-2 loss to Chelsea in April in which he also scored, and he then went on to keep two clean sheets in the subsequent four appearances he made between then and the end of the season. His end of season form has given him a sporting chance of lining up for Poland alongside the seasoned stalwart in the Polish backline, Kamil Glik when they face Senegal on the 19th of June, and has certainly given Poland manager Adam Nawałka an option to seriously consider.
On the whole, the great news for all of us Saints fans is that we have survived a long and turbulent season, and even if none of our players made it into the England fold we can still watch the World Cup with much enthusiasm and cheer on other players in a competition that will be a great kick-start to another exciting Summer for the club.