World Cup 2010: A Terrible Draw For England

It’s the worst imaginable outcome for England. A group containing Algeria, USA and Slovenia is precisely what we didn’t need. Here’s why:

  • We face a press avalanche of stupidity, bigotry and ignorance about the USA. This is where some of the ordinarily classy and intelligent bloggers will trip up too, as they did in 2006. I don’t just mean the ones who (a) think “soccer” is an Americanism, and (b) think that an excellent basis for comedy. I mean the ones who will, oh-so-thoughtfully, link to one or other of two kinds of article which will be present en masse come July: (a) “The US doesn’t get football, and this is a bad thing” and/or (b) (This from the US itself) “Soccer is for pussies! Etc.” Well, the US doesn’t get soccer to the extent that it is now a World Cup finals regular, has many players in the Premiership, dominates the online tactics discussion scene, dominates the Womens’ game, and bases its youth development on techniques from Holland and Italy. What the English mean when they say that the US doesn’t get football is that it hasn’t aped English “passionate” fan culture and English commentators’ terminology. But you don’t hear these same English accusing Canada, or New Zealand, or India, of not “getting football”, nor do they express anger at other very different football cultures, such as Japan. And that’s why it’s bigotry and baseless hatred under another name. Spend the early World Cup watching your classy, educated, nuanced journalists and bloggers disappear over that lip one by one. (Unfortunately, the prize for the first thoughtless mention of 1950 has already been won. 1950 isn’t relevant. It was a fluke, the US have put enormous work into getting where they are now, and, I suspect, would feel that they deserve more credit for that than they receive. Four years before 1950, England beat Holland 8-2. Is that relevant? Or worth digging up as it’s nearly World Cup year?
  • Slovenia are exactly the kind of opposition that England seem incapable of respecting. (You can say the same for Algeria, who’ll be wondering if anyone saw just what they had to endure to qualify).And that’s begun already, for all Capello’s warning comments. Expect Slovenia to pass the ball around the England team before being robbed by bad luck, refereeing decisions and chicanery. Look forward to press conferences where Terry and Gerrard promise better performances next time.  Slovenia put away a good Russian team with a first rate manager to get to the World Cup finals, and might have wanted a more interesting draw themselves: Holland, perhaps, or Argentina. For that alone, I hope they get through.
  • If England do progress, we are told, they enjoy a straightforward route to the semi-finals, where they are likely to come across Brazil. In other words, we’ll scrape along, sneaking narrow, undeserved victories, confidence slowly ebbing as expectations rocket. Who wants this?

England probably aren’t going to win the World Cup. And even if they defy the odds and do so – for which they have no divine right, and no, it’s not “our turn” any more than anyone else’s – what kind of win is it, going the back doubles and avoiding the world’s best?

So – let’s do an Ireland and appeal. Not to be in or out. Let’s appeal to get England a real World Cup. Let’s swap with North Korea. Let’s match ourselves against Brazil, Portugal and the Ivory Coast. We might just surprise ourselves, but even if we don’t, at least the players will know they’re in a tournament, and there’ll be no “patriotic” underestimating of worthy opponents such as Slovenia and Algeria are in for. And we did OK the last time we met Brazil in the opening round of a World Cup outside Europe:

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16 responses to “World Cup 2010: A Terrible Draw For England

  1. I kind of agree with you on a lot of that James. Particularly that we are ignoring both Slovenia and Algeria’s performances in the qualifying rounds- Russia could and did give England a game very recently and the Slovenes knocked them out and Egypt aren’t a bad side either. What I dislike about this as well is that if Germany say lose to Australia and qualify and England come top (or we lose a game and come second) then it’s Germany in the second round- and its 1996 and Terry wearing a helmet all over again!

  2. James Hamilton

    Terry in a helmet isn’t so bad. Yesterday Alex Massie invoked Flodden over an England-Scotland darts match!

  3. All too true regarding the press, though I suppose England will still qualify from that group. As for the rest of the competition, it is a cup not a league. If it were the Premier League England would be Liverpoolish, Spain Arsenalish – which leaves the question who would be Manchester United or Chelsea? Brazil and Italy? Vice versa?

    As it is, it is a cup competition, so not really a measurement of anything much beyond a few days good or bad play, good or bad luck etc.

    On the other hand we know that but still get deeply involved and excited. I think reaching the SF would be a good result for England. On the other other hand it would be a good result for anybody.

  4. Where can I find these online tactical discussions, James?

  5. BigSoccer.com, among other places.

  6. Here, Rob.
    “Pass it to one of the guys in the same colour of shirt.”

  7. Hello.

    Excellent. I enjoyed reading this, thank you. (I found you via Gracchi’s blog, just for the record – or the police, I suppose, should it ever come to that).

    This may seem palpably obvious to you, I’m afraid, but the behaviours of the press make it very hard for us neutrals (I’m Scottish) to warm to the England football team. The ignorance and the snarling, jeering bigotry, coupled with the wearying repetition of “we could win this, we could, it’s our year/turn” etc….well, it makes everything feel awful and depressing and kind of demands a certain schadenfreude when everything goes limply wrong. Plus, the players seem divorced from the realities of their own (perfectly understandable) limitations.

    It’s nice to know that dismay (towards these behaviours) is felt so keenly by the English, too.

    In the absence of Ireland, however – and, of course, the gruesomely laughable Scotland – I’ll be dementedly rooting for England (even though I rather dislike football) with the best of them. This could be your year. No, really.

    Kind regards etc…

    TPE

    PS. Your guest, George S, said: “If it were the Premier League England would be Liverpoolish…”

    Perfect and funny and true.

  8. dearieme: Joke if you want, but he’s right. The Yank sites definitely have more comprehensive tactical discussions.

    I used to wonder if this was merely a reflection of our naivete with the game, a sort of wide-eyed eagerness to discuss nuts-and-bolts stuff that other cultures take for granted. Like the way you might imagine Italian basketball fans discuss NBA games.

    But over time, I’ve come to realize that, no, actually — football fans in America are just more instinctively drawn to that kind of analysis. It’s their bread and butter with other sports, so why not soccer? And rather than being wide-eyed newbies, they actually have a very thorough, multidimensional knowledge of the game.

    I think that’s a product of the unique station of American supporters: There’s no casual soccer fandom in the USA — you’re either all the way in, or you’re not in at all. And so like the obsessive enthusiasts you’ll find in any pursuit, they tend to immerse themselves in the deepest of details.

    Soccer may be second-tier in the United States sports heirarchy, but its fans certainly aren’t.

  9. @D.Rew, my jibe was at English football fans, whose tactical “forts” seem to be limited to the need for more grit, determination and passion. I squirm every time a TV guru apologises for “getting a bit technical” and then makes some bloody elementary observation. Had I been joking about Americans, I would have written “same color of shirt”.

  10. Fantastic, many thanks.

  11. Ahh, I see, dearieme. Sorry for misreading.

  12. Not at all; my fault.

  13. It stills astounds me how complete a player Sir Bobby Charlton was….

  14. James Hamilton

    @TPE: I’m a Londoner who lives in Edinburgh and is a bit Scot, a bit English and a bit Irish by descent. A foot on all of your houses! And I feel the strength of what you say about the press and the England team. That said, the English press themselves could do with warming to the England team a bit more from time to time: the 2006 World Cup reportage was no better than malicious in its quality.

    The relationship between Scotland and England, especially in sporting terms, is a complex and interesting one, and I mean to cover it here soon.

    @Elliott: not joking, but I wonder what Charlton’s image would be now had he only found himself a barber capable of brutal honesty. I did, and never looked back.

    @Dearieme: Finney and Lawton were amongst the besiegers at Oxford.

    @D.Rew: thanks very much for the link – one of many and in fact a new one for me. I should have mentioned also that US fans hold a left-fieldish sort of cultural position in the country, which UK fans ought to, but won’t, envy.

  15. Great Article,

    Growing up in the Midwest in the USA, soccer was rarely played in the neighborhoods. In my case, I only started playing soccer until a large Argentine community moved into the area. Pickup games were abundant during those years, but as soon as the community moved to different locations, soccer became obscure again. Televised games were a rarity; the game had not been accepted like the top 3 sports.

    Now with soccer’s exposure evident in ESPN and Latin cable stations, the sport has taken huge strides. Will soccer surpass American football or basketball? Probably not, but the youth and immigrant demographics gravitate to the beautiful game raising its awareness.

    These days, I don’t have to drive far to find a pick up game anymore, now that most kids play the sport with good fundamentals and knowledge.

    Moving forward, the US Soccer Fed must focus on convincing a small fraction of our top athletes to dedicate themselves to soccer. which will increase the US’ level of play immensely. In 4-8 years, the US Men’s National Team will arrive to new heights, with each four-year generation considerably better than the last.

    England should win group C, but don’t be surprised if the US’ play will be vastly different than the 2008 frienldy, when they lost 0-2.

  16. I’m going to be more optimistic – I think the newspapers will be both more aware of the strengths in the US game, and less Dambusters’ patriotic. I think this has been a slow burning trend for a while; I’ll try to think of more concrete reasons (although I think one is simply the decline of its influence and reach).