The 2010 World Cup has had one of the least predictable opening rounds in tournament history, but that doesn’t preclude from the inevitability of the roller coaster ride of the England football team. France and Italy going out despite having relatively easy groups, a highly fancied Spain losing their first game, and New Zealand going through the tournament unbeaten were not anything I had anticipated. But, if history has taught us anything, it’s that England’s tournaments follow a depressingly similar pattern.
In 2006, in their second game, England were held by the smallest ever nation in the World Cup, Trinidad and Tobago, for 83 minutes until finally winning 2-0. However, once they were through to the quarter finals after a narrow victory over Ecuador in the last 16, suddenly everyone in the country seemed to believe they were going to win the World Cup – Portugal and Penalties put paid to that. In 2002, the frustration was a draw with Sweden in the opening match with Argentina looming large – a great win over them and then a second round 3-0 drubbing of Denmark again had the nation ready for success, until Seamen misjudged a 40 yard free kick and England were out in the quarter-finals. In ’98, a second game defeat to Romania had the doubters looming, and then Beckham’s flick and penalties had them out in the second round despite belief having been reborn from a 2-0 win over Colombia.
The story in the European Championships is pretty much the same. 2004 England had lost to France (a game which contained the grossest and most awesome penalty I saw where Zidane vomited just before he took it, and of course scored) but Portugal and the penalties saw them out. 2000 saw England beat the Germans in the group, only for both of them to go out anyway, and 96 had the frustration of an opening draw with Swizterland, the high of a 4-1 drubbing of the Dutch, and the ending of a loss to Germany. On penalties.
So this time, we have the disappointing draw with Algeria, a 1-0 win over Slovenia and the now spreading feeling in the English media and squad that “maybe this could be our year”. It can’t and it won’t be. Sunday’s game with Germany has the air of predictability about it. It’s not just the losses to Germany in the past (the group game in 2000 is the only tournament win over the Germans England have had since the ’66 World Cup). It’s not just that the only time England have beaten a former winner of the World Cup at the tournament itself on foreign soil is the 2002 win over Argentina. It’s everything.
To be honest, despite being English through and through, I cannot support this team. They are completely unlikeable, their main players indiscretions have been covered enough elsewhere, but the arrogance that goes along with the team is cringeworthy at best. Rooney’s diatribe at his own fans (who had paid good money to travel to South Africa) after the Algeria game was a disgrace at best. The overwhelming belief they seem to have individually and collectively that they have a divine right to success is worrying and indeed somewhat sad to see. This is a team who didn’t even qualify for Euro 2008, now they have beaten the mighty Slovenia the talk is of winning it all. The captain, Steven Gerrard, has had a club season in which he has been shown for what he is, an average midfielder when Xabi Alonso isn’t playing next to him – his peak years came with the assistance of the Spaniard, making him look much better than he is. Without him, he’s been unable to dominate the way he appeared to over the last few years.
England are also a boring team to watch – they have very little style, only three genuinely exciting players to watch (on top form, Lennon, Rooney and Joe Cole) and of those, Rooney is the only one playing regularly and he hasn’t played well since March. And the English media, they hype, the hyperbole and the lazy German stereotypes that will be trotted out in the run out for Sunday’s game leaves me unable to hope for this team to succeed. Germany have put in one of the performances of the tournament with their 4-0 drubbing of Australia (the only game the Socceroos lost) and have a youthful, exciting team. And if England do put in a good performance and knock out Germany (fair play to them if they do) then the hype will get even more fervent and the expectation to beat Argentina and the references to the Falklands and Maradona the cheat will be ubiquitous – but give me Higuain, Mascherano, Tevez and Messi over Rooney, Heskey, Gerrard and Lampard any day.