England has descended into introspection as we try to explain the frustrating 0-0 draw with Algeria. Can we blame the weight of the nation’s expectations on the players shoulders? Have Capello’s cautious tactics rendered England totally predictable? Did we underestimate the opposition and overestimate our players? Maybe there is a combination of factors, which will come out in the wash. England still only need to beat the unfancied Slovenians to progress to the knock-out phase, so I will hold my fire for now.
The downside of the match this coming Wednesday is that it will be the biggest match in Slovenia’s short history and having surprisingly beaten Guus Hiddink’s Russia in the play-offs to reach South Africa, they will fancy their chances. On the other hand Robert Koren versus Wayne Rooney should be no contest.
EUROPE VERSUS SOUTH AMERICA
Brazil are the only nation ever to win the World Cup outside of their own continent, in Sweden 1958, USA 1994 and Japan/South Korea 2002. With the World Cup being played in Africa for the first time, it is still likely that a European or South American team will be victorious. Of the 18 World Cups to date 9 have been won by European countries and 9 by those from South America.
It is striking that with the exception of Germany in their opening match, and the Netherlands who normally peak too early anyway, the major European nations have had a hapless start. England, France, Spain and Italy are yet to win a match, and all have been unimpressive in the early stages of the tournament. By contrast the previous World Cup winners from South America have started well. Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil (in flashes) have shown their quality, and the outstanding players so far have been the Argentine forward line and Diego Forlan of Uruguay.
There is time for this pattern to change, and the Europeans can still get their act together, but the South Americans are definitely ahead at this stage.
AM I ENGLISH?
Seeking solace on Facebook after England’s poor performance (a bad and sad idea), I find a number of people sidling away from their support for England into the Celtic fringe of their ancestors or back to club loyalty. I am reminded that football is only a game and it does not really matter who you support, but also that in this day and age, identities are increasingly fluid and changeable. Whilst Wayne Rooney may be petulant criticising England fans for booing the team after the match on Friday, on a wider level a lack of loyalty has become quite acceptable and often encouraged.
Ever since ‘we’ all became Irish when England failed to qualify for USA ‘94, this opportunist transfer of support has been rife. Brazil are now many English peoples ‘second team’. Maybe I should consider shifting my allegiance to Switzerland (grandmother) or Greece (holidays). Anyway at least my colleagues at the Institute of Ideas have been warned when I bring my cowbell into the office.
HAIRSHIRTS GO GLOBAL
Thank you to everyone who has sent me examples of the hairshirt brigade complaining about the World Cup and football in general. Unfortunately this phenomenon has gone global.
Libyan leader Colonel Gadaffi in an article entitled ‘The World Cup is physically and morally dangerous’, says ‘The masses are reduced to playing the role of the idiotic spectator’ and ‘It (The World Cup) causes the spread of degenerative behaviour and collective recklessness and irresponsibility’. Closer to home the literary critic Terry Eagleton writes ‘for the most part football these days is the opium of the people’ and ‘Nobody serious about political change can shirk the fact that the game has to be abolished’. Most sinister of all are the reports from Somalia, where the Islamists are acting on this miserabilist sentiment. At least two people have been killed for watching the World Cup. A spokesman for militant Somali group Hizbul-Islam is quoted as saying ‘We are warning all the youth of Somalia not to dare watch these World Cup matches. It is a waste of money and time and they will not benefit anything or get any experience by watching mad men jumping up and down’. Ignore these doom merchants and enjoy the rest of the tournament.