When Tomas Pekhart tapped home a second goal for the Czech Republic a week or so ago in Viborg, it marked a familiar end to an English team’s participation in the finals of an international competition. Stuart Pearce ’s under 21 team had been hotly tipped for the tournament, but failed to win a game, and were on the first plane home.
It was the latest England team to fail to meet the standards demanded of them by the English public, and more importantly, the English media. Since Euro 96, when England lost in the semi-final to Germany on penalties, the national team has failed to get beyond the quarter-final stage of any of the next seven international tournaments. But have they actually under-achieved? Did they ever go into any of those competitions as one of the best teams?
The simple answer is no. Not that you’d know that if you base your opinion solely on that of the English media. In the last decade, as Sky has pumped millions and millions of pounds in the English game, the Premier League has become the self-professed ‘best league in the world’, and the players that made up the English national squad is the ‘Golden Generation’.
And even up until last year’s World Cup finals, when most of the ‘Golden Generation’ were in their 30s, the English media were proclaiming that England were a great team. Yes, they had eased into the finals after dropping only 3 points in the qualifying stage, but they had lost friendly matches against Brazil and Spain during that campaign, although they also drew in Holland and beat Germany in Berlin.
A great example of the media’s arrogance came during the friendly against Spain in Valencia. As Spain eased to a 2-0 victory, the English commentator was happily working out that David Beckham would equal Peter Shilton’s cap tally if he played in every England match up to and including the World Cup final.
When the draw for the World Cup groups was made, The Sun infamously ran a front page story with the headline: England, Algeria, Slovenia, Yanks – E.A.S.Y. Of course, England subsequently struggled to draws against the USA and Algeria, before narrowly defeating Slovenia 1-0 in the final group game. But even as England struggled in their first two games, ITV and the BBC were pointing out how ‘easy’ England’s passage to the semi-finals would be if they won their group. As it turned out, the USA scored a dramatic late winner against Algeria to top the group, leaving England to face their old rivals Germany in the second round.
Inevitably, the media went into overdrive, and in the build up to the game, Gary Lineker and the BBC pundits fell over themselves pointing out how much better England were than Germany, incredibly going as far as to claim that ‘no-one in the Germany team would get a start for England’. Imagine their surprise when the final whistle blew, and Germany had comprehensively beaten England 4-1.
The blame for the sub-par performances fell squarely on the head of Fabio Capello . Questions were asked of his tactics, and there were even doubts about how good a manager he actually is. That he’d won 7 Serie A titles with three different teams, La Liga twice in two different spells with Real Madrid, and the Champions League with AC Milan wasn’t enough, he’d failed to win the World Cup with England’s Golden Generation!
That is not to say that England are a bad team. Capello does have quality to choose from, but few if any of the players he can pick would be considered amongst the top three in the world in their position. But you can expect the hype towards the 2012 European Championships to grow when England cement their place in the finals. As defending champions, Spain will go into the tournament as favourites, Holland and Germany will be contenders, and the French and Italians will look to put horrific World Cups behind them.
But despite this, England will still expect, and will still find themselves at a loss to explain what they perceive as an early exit, should England fail to reach the final.
Read more of David Dougan’s articles at This is Futbol