On 11th June 2010 the Worlds greatest sporting spectacle will kick off in South Africa. So, as we approach the FIFA World Cup this summer, what are England’s chances? Do they really possess the talent to take them all the way to glory? Or is the media-circus going to blind us yet again, injecting false hope into the hearts of those that follow the indifferent England team.
The truth is the England team, despite their incredible individual talents, do not quite work; for some unfathomable reason they are a team that generally get the results they need, but fall at the final hurdle, and never seem to fully get into stride and realise their potential.
I will never forget the last time I saw an England side play and truly felt proud. I remember sitting in awe as I watched England thrash a World class Dutch side in Euro 96. It was a phenomenal display not simply because of the score line, but the performance was surprisingly ruthless; England never stopped attacking, and gave the inventors of ‘total football’ a true lesson in attacking superiority.
Since that day, I can recall only two other England performances that have ever come close to the transcendental heights of the Euro 96 squad. One of course, is the 5-1 thrashing of Germany in Munich, a result which spawned mass euphoria and became emblazoned across t-shirts around the country; the second is the 3-2 win over Argentina in Geneva in the run up to the 2006 World Cup. This game was released as a DVD in the UK, in its entirety, despite being a friendly exhibition match 6 months before the World Cup was due to start.
Of course this then added to the hype, which I ashamedly became a part of, in the build up to the last World Cup. I remember before the opening game against Paraguay, the England team sheet was incredibly impressive. Every position was filled with a world class player, how could they fail? The so called golden generation of English football was fit and ready to regain the bruised pride of the nation.
The opening two group games of the last World cup were dismal. Two lucky wins against below par sides. Hope was given in the tie with Sweden, in which England dominated the first half, and Joe Cole scored one of the great World Cup goals. The disappointing 2-2 draw with Sweden was followed by a shocker against Ecuador in the round of 16; Ashley Cole’s thigh saving England from an embarrassing 1-0 deficit at half time, and trusty Beckham popping up to help a hapless England limp into the quarter finals.
Since the last World Cup, and England’s failure to qualify for Euro 2008, we have become far more sceptical and disillusioned with the national game. I for one never underestimate any team England encounter, even Andorra; this is the attitude, I believe, that Fabio Capello has instilled within the team. The impressive qualification for the 2010 world cup has again ignited belief around the England team, but do they really have the talent and cohesion to tackle the likes of Spain, Germany, Italy and Brazil, teams who they will inevitably have to face in the latter stages of the tournament. This is something that England have never really proven consistently, apart from the drubbing of Germany and of Holland in ’96 as well as the Argentina win, when has the team shone and dazzled this brightly?
England’s opening clash against the USA on 12th June is a key fixture. The Confederations Cup finalists are just the sort of dark horse that could unhinge England; this time however, with Capello at the helm England look a lot more grounded. Before this game England have two final friendly fixtures against Japan and Mexico which will be telling as to the mental state and fitness of the squad before they embark for South Africa.
I would urge all those who support England to keep a level head, and not let the hype affect their enjoyment of England’s progress in the World Cup. If we harness that most English of traits, pessimism, then we can not be disappointed by what is a highly hopeful campaign.
Written By Jack Parkinson