For all the po-faced predictions from our press and players, both former and current, it was an Italian who most astutely summed up the English predicament.
Speaking before the Three Lions’ opener with Italy, Gianluca Vialli, the one-time Chelsea player and manager, quipped that “for four years, the England fans feel a bit depressed [about] the England side and then, one month before the World Cup starts, begin feeling they will naturally win it.”
It’s the hope that kills you.
Beaten by a superior side on Saturday and a superior player on Tuesday, in the shape of the singular, mercurial talent that is Uruguay’s Luis Suarez, England crashed out of the World Cup. If tonight’s game against Costa Rica ends in defeat, it will mark their worst performance at a World Cup for 50 years.
The excellent Central Americans (once unfancied, now looking imperious, having beaten Italy and Uruguay), need a point to finish top of the Group D; England can’t restore pride, but can avoid humiliation.
Hodgson’s men are a team who, for all their attacking intent (so refreshing after the conservatism of South Africa), look out of place and time. The FA needs to decide which drawing board it is they need to go back to.
But even England can’t put a downer on this beguiling World Cup. Brazil and Argentina have laboured; Spain and England have floundered – but this tournament belongs to the underdogs.
What is so enthralling about the tournament’s upsets – and, indeed, near upsets – by large haven’t come from gallant against-the-odds defending but expressive, attractive football. Just look at Costa Rica. Ghana’s magnificent display against the Germans – who looked to be heading for defeat before Miroslav Klose cancelled out Asamoah Gyan’s sweet effort – was one of many intriguing contests.
Australia, sent packing, gave Holland a scare, Tim Cahill providing the goal of the tournament; a volley fit for Marco Van Basten. The Dutch faced another one of the tournament’s most effervescent attacking forces in Chile, on Monday, nicking two late goals – one from the Fer, the first Norwich player to score at a World Cup.
Iran’s game against Argentina typifies the magic of the World Cup. After a defensive first half display, the Iranians came out swinging, nearly, inconceivably, winning it through Reza Ghoochanejad and Ashkan Dejagah, before Messi spoilt the party with a sumptuous 91st minute winner. Argentina, already through, need a point on Wednesday to top Group F, while a coin toss could decide second place, should Iran win 1-0 and Nigeria lose 1-0 in their respective final games.
Sorry Cameroon managed to open their account against Brazil of all teams, who upped the ante, beating the Africans 4-1; while, Mexico in the other Group A fixture, pounced on a naïve and increasingly desperate Croatia, to race to 3-0 (before conceding their first goal of the tournament), setting up an enticing encounter with the Dutch.
France – whose striking came in the form of an industrial action in 2010 – seemingly can’t stop scoring, with Benzema hushing those who bizarrely doubt his pedigree, while Chile and Mexico have won hordes of itinerant fans with innovate, vibrant – and pragmatic – football.
So where’s all this cagey, uninteresting football in the stifling Brazilian heat we heard so much about?
We never want it to end.
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