Even I’ve been shocked at the media reaction here in England to our opening World Cup result against the United States. Okay, so we didn’t win, but we didn’t lose and we’re still in with every chance of qualifying for the second round, so surely it’s not the end of the world, is it? If you believed everything in the papers here, you’d think it was. [ad#as3]
The press here have been beside themselves since Robert Green’s absolute howler – and we all know that’s what it was – literally handed the Americans a 1-1 draw. Without that, England would have been off and running and we’d have had none of this nonsense. Or would we?
The English media are notorious for building up the hopes of a nation, having us believe we’re world beaters on the back of victories against the likes of Croatia, and then have us thinking our chances are over just because we drew our opener.
England coach Fabio Capello has now come under much criticism since Saturday, with various journalists asking whether he’s already losing his cool as well as the plot. They’re obviously questioning his decision to pick Green ahead of David James and Joe Hart, but they’re also asking whether it was the right decision to pick Ledley King, whether Jamie Carragher still has the pace at the top level, whether Wayne Rooney has the temperament, whether the ill James Milner should have started, whether Shawn Wright Phillips should have replaced him instead of Joe Cole, whether Steve Gerrard will play up front with Rooney against Algeria, whether Gareth Barry will be fit, etc etc.
Of course he was right to pick King, everybody knows he’s one of the best defenders in the country, and his injury had nothing to do with his dodgy knees – this, after all, was a groin strain. The papers sensationalised the injury saying he’s out of the tournament, only to see Ledders stroll out for training on Monday morning. Okay, so he might not be fit for Friday, but should they really need him to be against Algeria? As for the other questions, surely that’s just pub talk, right?
I feel like I’m watching another episode of the classic sitcom, Dad’s Army, where the local volunteers of the Home Guard provided vital roles in Britain during the Second World War. You can just see Capello turning to Green with a condescending “You stupid boy!” as Captain Mainwaring used to say to Pike, or Lance-Corporal Jack Jones repeatedly calming his captain down with the unforgettable “Don’t panic, Mr. Mainwaring”, whilst reminding him “They don’t like it up ‘em”.
The press certainly don’t like it when it’s “up ‘em”, proof of which came last week when Capello turned on the photographers for taking pictures of the changing rooms. They also don’t like the fact he won’t announce his team until two hours before the match. But Capello will do well to remember the line when facing Algeria and Slovenia in the coming days, and concentrate on getting amongst the goals.
England created enough chances on Saturday, and without opening day nerves and stalwart defending from the American back line, would have been strolling to victory.
History itself says we don’t start World Cups well. In the seven tournaments England have played in since I was born (in 1975), they have only won their opening game twice – against France in 1982 and Tunisia in 1998 – and yet have always gone through to the next round. In 1986, we all remember Maradona’s Hand of God goal in the quarterfinals, but who remembers that we lost our opener to Portugal and then drew against Morocco without scoring a goal in the first two group matches? The point is, we still went through thanks to Gary Lineker’s hat-trick against Poland. And even in 1966 itself, England drew their opening game against Uruguay, and we all know what happened after that.
So, the message to Fabio and the press is clear at this stage. Don’t panic! There’s a lot more for us to worry about later.