Well, as of last weekend, the World Cup is over for England, with the unfortunately familiar sight of a loss through penalties rather than in the blaze of glory. Yet again, we hoped for more than was realistic to expect. It is something I have grown up seeing England go through and each time it produces cries of disappointment. We seem to be good enough to get to a certain point, and then it all ends, not with a bang, (as we saw with the semi-final Germany vs Italy game), but with a whimper. This is how worlds end, this is how dreams are shattered. Having said that, losing by a single goal or penalties is a sadly familiar sight in this world cup, a far cry from the average of 5 goals a match in the early tournaments of the last century, which must have been simply thrilling to watch.
Let’s remember, though, that making it to the quarter-finals is no mean feat in such a competition and is, historically, actually not so bad for England, if not exactly inspiring. We got just as far as Brazil and Argentina did. We did ‘well’ (okay not exactly against the main teams), even though we didn’t do brilliantly. So why is it that we expected more than we got? My answer- because whilst we have the players, we have yet to produce the team.
Lackluster but ultimately effective performances certainly kept us in the game up to the quarter-finals we reached, leaving a taste of disappointment, as we never saw England get into the ‘higher gear’ we were promised once they progressed further. Perhaps just as southern, ‘Latin’ teams are accused of play-acting, so could northern teams be accused of being overly-defensive and not allowing the game to truly flower.
The team has the right to feel they did (quite) well and receive some praise along with dreams of getting further next time, all hype aside of reaching a final match that we have only once ever made it too. That’s what the gold star on the player’s shirts is- one star for one winning of the cup itself. But oh no, that would be too positive for the press, which prefers to look for scapegoats for the ‘failure’ rather than build on the successes so far. It makes me wonder how we could do better…
Could we do better with a better team and management? Sven did indeed have a boring outlook- winning by a shoestring and not even encouraging the passionate football that people like to see. If everyone was as cynical as Sven (and a lot of managers seem to be) I wonder if the World cup would even be worth watching. Well, on the whole it is more to see who wins by one goal or a penalty shoot-out these days than to see really good football being played, these days, yet this doesn’t stop it from being the most exciting event on Earth. Still, other teams displayed far more exciting passion than England and got just as far, so what can we do about it, perhaps also making further progress more likely? Quite a different question than ‘who can we blame’-though Sven as manager is the only one who could fairly be considered for such a dubious honour, though it could even be argued that the celeb-strewn team he maintained is what the public wanted from him.
More so, can we get over our fear of losing (which the Portuguese goalkeeper Richardo saw in the faces of those about to take the penalties) and replace it with the zest to win we can see so much in Brazil, Germany, Italy? Many people say they looked more like a team playing not to lose than a team playing to win. They seemed more worried about losing the reputation they had, rather than seeking the glory of a new triumph. Our team, full of star players, perhaps had too many stars for it’s own good, ultimately lacking ‘underlings’ in the midfield happy to just keep and pass the ball for the striker to get the glory- how about some more humility and professionalism? Speaking of strikers… where were they? Aside from Rooney, often left alone at the front with no-one to pass to and score with him- which is what everyone other than Superman needs- we only had Crouch, the unknown and ultimately unplayed Walcott and Owen, who succumbed again to an injury that came back at just the wrong time.
As for now, let’s see if Italy wins the final. After their ecstatic end to the semi-final with Germany, which looked to me like a victory over skillful but negative football (2.0, scoring twice in the last few minutes of extra time), let’s see if that passion is enough to beat Zidane’s team. What excites me the most is there’s no way of knowing now!
As Ecclesiastes Chapter 9 Verse 11 famously puts it-
I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.