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Goodness. Well, I don’t think that any of us were expecting that. The build up had been about as horrific as could be. A terrible performance against the Czech Republic that was not masked by a flukey, last minute equaliser in front of a booing crowd. Then, a disjointed performance against an Andorran team that is about as limited as international teams come. There were rumours of discontent within the England squad, and the sense of unease was further strengthened by Croatia’s workmanlike win against Kazakhstan at the weekend. The omens were bad. This had all the required ingredients of being a potential humiliation for an England team that has been stuttering for over two years, now. For once, however, England managed to not live down to expectations, and managed their best performance since they beat Germany in Munich seven years ago almost to the week.
For those of us that had confidently predicted a completely abject England capitulation, the first half wasn’t as bad as it might we expected. True enough, Rooney and Lampard were both initially as anonymous as the invisible man on a reconnaissance mission for the CIA, but Heskey looked surprisingly unlumbering up front and the Croatian defence occasionally looked panicked when England moved forward. When they broke, they broke fluidly, and gave Croatia a couple of scares before they scored after twenty-six minutes. The goal, when it came, was the result of some benevolent defending. Cranjic’s attempted clearance bounced off a team mate and conveniently into the path of Theo Walcott, who drove the ball across Pletikosa and in. It was, in many respects, less than they deserved. Croatia should, after all, have taken the lead after twelve minutes, when James fumbled a corner and Vedran Corluka shot wide at the second attempt from close range. Within a couple of minutes of taking the lead, Walcott, who by this point seemed to tearing Croatia apart on his own, shot across the face of goal and wide, but Croatia still looked the more convincing team going forward, with James spilling a second cross just before half-time.
The second half couldn’t have started much worse for Croatia. They had started kicking England as soon as they went a goal down, and they seemed to start the second half in the same manner, with an appalling foul and straight red card arguably putting the result beyond any doubt. Just eight minutes of the second half had been played when Robert Kovac barged into Joe Cole elbows first and sent him flying. Playing against ten men, the result was a formality from here-on in. On fifty-nine minutes, Lampard’s pass found Heskey, who in turn teed up Theo Walcott to drive in a second goal that looked remarkably similar to his first. A further four minutes had passed before Jermaine Jenas (Joe Cole’s replacement after Kovac’s assault) pulled the ball back for Wayne Rooney to end his recent drought and make it 3-0. Frank Lampard then had a goal disallowed after Emile Heskey tripped a Croatian defender. Such was the brittle confidence surrounding the England team that, three minutes later, nerves were being shredded again. John Terry appeared to be kicked in the head by a high boot from Darijo Srna, but the referee waves play on and, with Terry hopelessly out of position (and injured), Mario Mandzukic rolled the ball under David James to pull the score back to 3-1 with ten minutes still to play. We needn’t, for once, have worried. With Croatia pushing forward to try and pull a second goal back, Wayne Rooney fed a perfect pass for Walcott to complete his hat-trick and make the score a scarcely believable 4-1.
England aren’t going to win the 2010 World Cup, and there are still plenty of opportunities for them to make a mess of qualifying for the finals. There is every likelihood that this will be a false dawn. It’s hardly as if there have never been any in the past, is it? More importantly than this, it’s important that everyone keeps a lid on their expectation. Not only is English arrogance profoundly irritating, but it only increases the pressure on a limited team to unmanageable levels. For once, though, it is possible to allow a glimmer of optimism into our lives about their chance, and this seemed most unlikely earlier this evening. Even more surprising than the cohesiveness of England’s performance this evening, however, was the extent to which Croatia simply didn’t turn up. It was disappointing to see a team with so much talent resort to some pretty dreadful tactics once they went a goal down. I thought that this sort of thing didn’t really happen in the modern game any more. To this end, they deserved everything that they got.
Ian began writing Twohundredpercent in May 2006. He lives in Brighton. He has also written for, amongst others, Pitch Invasion, FC Business Magazine, The Score, When Saturday Comes, Stand Against Modern Football and The Football Supporter. Ian was the first winner of the Socrates Award For Not Being Dead Yet at the 2010 NOPA awards for football bloggers.
England aren’t going to win the 2010 World Cup, and there are still plenty of opportunities for them to make a mess of qualifying for the finals. There is every likelihood that this will be a false dawn.
There is an inherent problem with coverage of England – and football in general – that suggests that anything other then winning the World Cup for a national side is a failure. I think we can take it as read that everyone wants to win the World Cup but to make the once every two/four events the only way of assessing the success of a team, and to use success as the only mark of quality, is to set targets so high as to be deliberately unreachable.
Of course any success will be a false dawn when the measure of that success is emerging as victors in a competition 200 teams enter and I would suggest that it is the height of the arrogance found irritating that there is an assumption that should England “get it together” then they will win the World Cup. What if Argentina or Brazil or Germany get it together at the same time as England have? If I am to believe what I read then it is irrelevant because England – when “got together” – are simply better than all those foreigners.
Can it not be enough to have the national side strive to get into the position where they are in the reckoning for World Cups? Perhaps it might be said that a team is in that position when they are getting knocked out on penalties but the snowballing of negativity started by Newspapers pressing an anti-European agenda against a Swede in charge of England insists that this is not good enough and that – combined with football’s inability to come to terms with the fact that not everyone can win every week – means that we are constantly insulted with the idea that as reasonably minded football supporters we can only understand doing well in the context of winning the World Cup as if we were children incapable of seeing things in shades of grey.
The same press that habitually tells us that our national team is a disaster told us that Sven Goran Eriksson had made a huge mistake in taking Theo Walcott to the World Cup three years ago and will be lauding the kid in the morning.
I would be satisfied enough with qualifying for the World Cup, Michael. That’s the beginning, middle and end of it, as far as I’m concerned. I can claim no foreign blood, so have to make do with them, whether I like it or not and, whilst Euro 2008 was jolly good entertainment, I have to declare a self-interest when I say that there isn’t anyone else that I can honestly support at international level (I could lie and claim some sort of Scottish ancestry, but that would be a bit shit really, wouldn’t it?) and, no matter how much they stink the finals out, I still want them there. If you supported, say, Newcastle United and they were relegated from the Premier League, you wouldn’t go around saying, “I’m delighted Newcastle aren’t in the Premier League any more, and I’m enjoying the Premier League more for them not being in it”.
I still think that England are plenty capable of not qualifying for the finals of this tournament, hence the comment that I made that you quoted. I don’t think that Ukraine will be easy at home or away, and Croatia are still plenty good enough to beat England at Wembley in the return match. This is what I meant by a “false dawn”. Part of the problem with England is their lack of consistency. They could quite easily drop points against, say, Belarus. Hope that clears up any misunderstanding. I suspect, though, that the wilder elements of the British press will start building expectations up again, just at a point when they may have been falling to manageable levels, which is a shame.
Also, I think that Sven Goran Eriksson did make a massive mistake in taking Theo Walcott to the 2006 World Cup, because Walcott wasn’t ready for it and Eriksson (in view of his actions in the finals, playing a half fit Rooney on his own up front) had no real intention of playing him. He may still not be ready, but scoring three goals in Zagreb isn’t a bad way to prove his naysayers wrong.
“no matter how much they stink the finals out, I still want them there.”
Funny, because I (Canadian) cheer them on, but I thought Euro 2008 was better without England. No over-the-top press, no over-the-top fans, no stories about the WAGs, no stories wandering around in disbelief when they don’t make the semi-finals or better. I think I’ve posted this column here before, but it’s worth another look:
England will win the 2010 World Cup.
I can see you point Brenton but I disagree. The way to avoid over the top, WAG obsessed newspapers is to not read them. It is a sorry state of affairs when the people who are supposed to Media the news shape how we want that news to be. Rather like saying we would not want to see Barrack Obama elected cause it might mean people tell more racist jokes.
My advice is to not read newspapers and make a cup of coffee at half time. You would be amazed at how when one is only watching the game you end up with a different perspective then those who absorb what the media laughingly put to us as detached coverage of events.
Michael, I see your point, but it also misses something – I don’t want to make coffee at half time, I want to watch the coverage, the debate, the replays, I want some of the atmosphere, I want to see Martin O’Neill telling Robbie Williams he thought he had no talent, I want to see Brian Clough telling Mick Channon that he’s driving him crackers, I even want to see Don Howe doing a terrible rap. But all we’ve had for the last few years (apart from this year’s tournament) is Ray Stubbs’ uninspiring face saying, “Let’s catch up with what’s happening at the England camp” and getting Michael Owen in England merchandise boring everyone with cliches, followed by Joe Cole, Stephen Gerrard, Frank Lampard, John Terry…etc
Talking of John Terry, I was very impressed last night with the way that instead of facing his error of judgement like a man and going back to at least try to help his fellow defenders chase his lost cause, the England captain lay on the floor on the halfway line, pretending to be hurt, then pointed to an invisible mark on his massive forehead – there wasn’t even any mud!!! Hardly Terry Butcher is it.
That aside, even bearing in mind how truly awful Croatia were, excellent victory.
You make a good point Gervillian – where would football’s lore be without Cloughie using the word Clown?
We have a game we play at half time where we try reimagine football coverage away from the current set up to something – well – different. How else can something be presented other than the talking heads and the Motty and his mate commentary? One thing is for sure it is a tired format which – as I say – comes a second to ten minutes guitar, playing a quick game of FIFA or having a trip to the loo.
[…] course we are constantly told – and will be told again – that England is the country of footballing false dawns and that while a win for the three lions last night is appreciated it is really just a tease – a […]