The wait is almost over for Gareth Southgate.
After months and months (and months) of agonising and sweating over who should make his final 26-player World Cup squad, England’s manager will confirm on Thursday lunchtime who is boarding the plane with him to Qatar in a bid to win men’s international football’s most prestigious competition for the first time in 56 years.
Southgate has been rocked in recent days by the news that Chelsea duo Reece James and Ben Chilwell will not be fit for the tournament, after failing to recover from respective knee and hamstring injuries.
James’ absence is a particularly bitter pill to swallow, as the 22-year-old would almost certainly have been named in England’s starting lineup for the group games against Iran, Wales and the United States.
It is also conceivable that Chilwell would have been lining up for England at some point in Qatar, though his starting place was not so certain amid competition from the rejuvenated Luke Shaw, and the impressively versatile Kieran Trippier – who is now likely to switch back over to his preferred flank following a terrific run of form at Newcastle.
Southgate also appears to have overlooked playmaker James Maddison after including the Leicester star in his rather expansive preliminary squad. The 25-year-old has been sparkling form for the Foxes to help them turn around a disastrous start to the season, but his goal contributions – both in the form of goals and assists – and overall creativity don’t appear to have resonated with the boss.
Nevertheless, England will have a raft of creative options at their disposal, whoever Southgate chooses, while there should also be plenty of firepower available up front should Harry Kane need some support in the goals department.
But rather than waffle on more about what dilemmas Southgate faces, why don’t we throw it over to 90min‘s editors to pick their 26-player squads?
Below is how the 9-strong panel voted when asked to piece together their England jigsaws, with a consensus squad pieced together after dotting all of the i’s and crossing all of the t’s.
One area where there was very little dispute was in the goalkeeping department. Jordan Pickford and Aaron Ramsdale were unanimous choices between the sticks, with Nottingham Forest’s Dean Henderson upsetting the apple cart by stealing away one of Nick Pope’s votes.
Nonetheless, the Newcastle stopper will be aboard 90min‘s plane to Qatar.
There’s a pretty constant theme in defence too, with Kyle Walker, Kieran Trippier, Trent Alexander-Arnold, John Stones and Luke Shaw picked by all of the panel.
Harry Maguire, Fikayo Tomori and the in-form Ben White scooped eight votes to cement their place on the plane, but it was difficult to nail down further cover in central defence and on the left.
Marc Guehi eventually came out on top, picking up four picks, but there were also calls for Ryan Sessegnon, Eric Dier, Chris Smalling, Conor Coady and *checks notes* the ruled out injured Reece James.
Furthermore, Lionesses superstar Millie Bright also received a nod – presumably because she actually knows a thing or two about winning on the international stage. G’wan, Millie.
Gareth Southgate may not fancy James Maddison but there’s no doubting that the 90min team think he should be heading to Qatar. Only one panelist from nine left him out of their 26-player squad, while Declan Rice, Jude Bellingham and Mason Mount were picked by all.
Jordan Henderson and Kalvin Phillips also get a spot, despite the latter’s summer move to Manchester City being severely disrupted by injury.
Things further forward were a little more clear cut – Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling, Bukayo Saka, Phil Foden, Marcus Rashford and Jack Grealish all obvious picks – but there was still a choice to be made between Ivan Toney and Callum Wilson.
The latter is in red-hot form for Newcastle and there’s nothing better than heading into a tournament than with a player brimming with confidence. But Toney has also been in tip-top shape in west London, and his overall ability convinced the majority of the team to take him to Qatar.
Harvey Barnes also bagged what some may describe as a bit of a rogue shout, though he’s been in impressive touch lately in fairness.
Goalkeepers: Jordan Pickford, Aaron Ramsdale, Nick Pope
Defenders: Kyle Walker, Kieran Trippier, Trent Alexander-Arnold, John Stones, Luke Shaw, Harry Maguire, Ben White, Fikayo Tomori, Marc Guehi, Ryan Sessegnon
Midfielders: Declan Rice, Jude Bellingham, Mason Mount, James Maddison, Jordan Henderson, Kalvin Phillips
Forwards: Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling, Bukayo Saka, Phil Foden, Marcus Rashford, Jack Grealish, Ivan Toney
So with the selections made, it’s time to sit back and see what Southgate opts to do. You can guarantee there’s going to be some heartbreak, but England squad announcements are always box office viewing.
Is it coming home? Maybe.