After the pulsating USA v. Slovenia match on Friday, England played out a dreadful 0-0 draw with Algeria in what was, arguably, the worst game of the World Cup so far (oops -- I forgot about France v. Uruguay).‚ What is it about England?
As a Scot with English friends and family, I have a strange relationship with the self-styled "home" of football. I'm not someone who hates England, and wouldn't mind seeing them do well, as long as it doesn't get mentioned again. The problem is, of course, that an England triumph would be spoken of again and again and again. England's one World Cup championship, 44 years ago, is still discussed by many in England as if it were yesterday, and despite Scotland's better qualification record in the 1970s, the press in the UK was (and still is) dominated by a fixation with England. (Note to the US media -- all English people are "Brits," but not all "Brits" are English, so don't use these interchangeably. It's England in the 2010 World Cup, not Britain!)
Like many of you, English games and players form the bulk of my regular season soccer-watching, and that familiarity means there's an awareness of the personalities on the England team.‚ So I support them a little bit, but only up to a point. I'm not ecstatic when England wins, it's just nice for them. Nor am I despondent when England loses.‚ In fact, I could hardly keep a grin off my face in The Globe pub back in November 2007 when England imploded against Croatia and lost 3-2.‚ It was just that funny.
I think that it is the hubris and hyperbole that accompanies an England World Cup team that leaves me torn between wanting to see them do well, and wanting to see them lose tragically and/or humiliatingly.‚ But I'd at least like to see them playing well.
England today showed none of the passion that the USA or Mexico had demonstrated in the last 24 hours.‚ If England had really gone at Algeria, whose goalkeeper was starting his first world cup match, they probably would have won, but they didn't and they didn't.
How can England players like Gerrard and Lampard, stalwarts of the Premier League, so consistently fail to get the ball to the would-be match winner, Wayne Rooney?‚ Could you imagine Argentina failing to get the ball to Messi, or Portugal to Ronaldo, of Brazil to Kaka or Robinho, or the US to Donovan? When the US needed someone to step up and take control today, Donovan burst into Slovenia's box and scored.‚ England players went into hiding, regularly over-running the ball, hitting the first defender with corners and being generally devoid of ideas.‚ If Heskey is in the team because his presence helps Rooney, then I've yet to see it.
The old tale that Lampard and Gerrard can't play together seems to hold true, and Wright-Phillips and Lennon, as professional soccer players whose job is to cross the ball should, you'd think, be able to cross the ball, after all they get paid to practice crossing every day of the week! Taking my cue from "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" after a poor first 45 minutes, I phoned a friend at half time and asked for his solution to England's malaise. His answer was good -- Manchester City's exciting young winger Adam Johnson. The only problem, Johnson, like other potential matchwinners, Ashley Young, Gabby Agbonlahor and Darren Bent, were left in England.‚ In fact, I read somewhere in the build up to the World Cup that no Englishman, other than Rooney, has scored more Premier League goals in the last 5 years than Darren Bent. The figures are telling: since 2005 (according to Wikipedia, at least) Young has scored 41 professional goals, Agbonlahor 45, Bent 73 and Adam Johnson, despite being only 22 and a midfielder, has scored 23. Emile Heskey has scored 24.
Of course, all this English ineptitude could just be an extravagant ploy to make other teams think they are rubbish.‚ After all, this is Fabio Capello's team, and he's Italian, and if any nationality wins World Cups after a playing poorly and drawing their group matches , it's Italy. In 1982 the Italians began with three draws (0-0, 1-1, 1-1) and went through ahead of Cameroon (0-0, 0-0, 1-1) on goals scored, before going on to lift the trophy in exhilarating fashion. For England, however, three draws in 2010 will not be enough.