Why England need a World Cup miracle in the shadow of Christ
This summer marks the return of the greatest show on earth. Unequivocally and irrevocably the undefeated champion of any and all sports events. Its audience is spread across every single country in every continent and enjoyable for all ages. If there was life in outer space, I’m almost certain they would tune in for the FIFA World Cup.
Four years of anticipation and excitement is a timely build-up, but a necessary one, with the six FIFA confederations holding qualification processes to determine which 31 teams would be joining Brazil- as the host nation- in the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
Qualification among FIFA’s six constituencies AFC (Asia), CAF (Africa), CONCACAF (North, Central American and Caribbean), CONMEBOL (South America), OFC (Oceania) and UEFA (Europe) has resulted in 23 of FIFA’s top ranked 24 teams making the cut. England’s opponents in the group stage, Uruguay, had to take part in inter-confederation play-offs to earn their place in Brazil, which they did comfortably even with the qualification’s joint top goal scorer Luis Suarez failing to score in their 5-0 rout of Jordan on aggregate.
A total of 207 teams whittled down to just 31 is a lengthy process, made up from every continent with Europe or UEFA the heaviest investors with 13 entrants, among them Spain who are chasing their fourth consecutive honour having conquered Europe twice and the World once in the last six years of competitive international football.
The usual pre-tournament hype is reserved for the usual suspects of Spain, Germany and Brazil, who will always remain the ones to beat. Then the usual let-downs Argentina, Italy, Holland and dare I say England – who will always flatter to deceive- will provide entertainment but they are unlikely to usurp the reigning Champion Spain.
England have a curious crop of talent. Plenty have written them off, including many from within their own game. The out-spoken Joey Barton suggests England’s only talented player remains Wayne Rooney, but his attitude hinders him from progressing to the next level of world-class talent.
Those comments will no doubt be taken with a pinch of salt considering Barton’s propensity for the bizarre but his point is an interesting one, not with Wayne Rooney specifically, but England’s entire squad. Without trying to tarnish their hopes or disregard the monotonous ‘football’s coming home’ indoctrination, it seems remarkably obvious that the England national team are light-years behind the world’s best.
Pessimistic yes, but realistic too. The sort of realism the media and England supporters alike should breathe in more often. Many would of course love to believe England are on the horizon of something brilliant, however the truth is they couldn’t be further from it at the present moment.
Despite the impressive form of some of England’s squad this year in the Barclays Premier League, it’s difficult to overlook their inexperience and rawness. Raheem Sterling and Jordan Henderson have been in scintillating form for Liverpool, while the Southampton trio of Adam Lallana, Luke Shaw and the now-injured Jay Rodriguez have propelled the Saints into European contention.
Then there are the sparkling displays of Arsenal utility man Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Everton playmaker Ross Barkley. Both players have enjoyed impressive campaigns at club level, but are not yet ready to make a meaningful impact at international level. England’s future does looks bright, but not bright enough for this summer.
The fact is this, players such as Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney will be our most senior players cap-wise and the amount of pressure on their shoulders will be unquantifiable. The squad’s younger players will look for guidance and leadership but Gerrard and Rooney will both have enough on their plates with a group that features Italy, Uruguay and Costa Rica.
Any notion of England winning in Brazil this year should be squashed immediately and heckled to the rafters because the likelihood is that the blind patriotism many choose to adopt is going to be what crushes our chances. The over-zealous nature we cheer on a team we know to be inferior is what makes us the laughing stock in so many other nations.
England’s biggest problem has always been expectancy. A nation that has far too much belief in a team that is not capable of meeting the huge expectations laid at its feet. The failure to qualify for the 2008 European Championships is a case in point, with many laying the blame at the door of then-manager Steve McClaren. Yet he didn’t play in any of the games, his team selection was not too dissimilar from any team most in his judgemental nation would’ve sent out.
So why didn’t England qualify for the competition? The answer is simple; the squad was completely lacking in imagination and ideas. When plan ‘A’ fails, the team panics and in true English fashion attempt plan ‘A’ over and over again until the opponent either makes a mistake or takes the initiative and runs through us. The friendly against Chile at Wembley was case in point, England were outplayed by a seemingly inferior opponent, frightened by their pace and baffled by their boldness in possession.
Winning trophies is all about timing, Spain have seamlessly integrated its youth into their senior side over the last five to six years so as to avoid any mass transition – it has been spectacularly successful. The same is true for Germany, who are now, again, one of the main powerhouses in the international game.
England have also lost influential players. John Terry has ruled himslef out any involvement in Brazil by retiring from international football – a fact reinforced further by England boss Roy Hodgson who confirmed Terry was not going to make a dramatic comeback from retirement
Terry’s partnership with Tim Cahill at the heart of Chelsea’s defence has been inspiring this season, arguably the best defensive duo in the Premier League this year. So for English fans to watch them play so successfully at club level, but not at the World Cup is simply gut-wrenching.
Furthermore, Terry has not been replaced. With no disrespect to Phil Jagielka, Phil Jones, Chris Smalling or whoever turns out alongside Cahill, they are not John Terry. They don’t possess half the defensive experience, the aerial ability, the determination to win or even the threat in front of goal that the Chelsea man offers.
So World Cup glory will be out of reach for England this summer, and though it’s true to say their current crop of young talent is the most exciting for some time, they’re not ready to make any meaningful impact at the highest level. The stark truth is that England are one step down from the realistic contenders, the likes of Spain, Brazil, Germany and Argentina.
Instead, England find themselves vying with the likes of France, Belgium and the Netherlands to be an unlikely World Cup “dark horse”, the team that surprises everyone by making it to the semi-final or even the final itself. Realistically however, anything further than the first knockout phase would be considered as a respectable performance from Hodgson’s side.
We’ve been here before haven’t we?