England At The Word Cup – My Summer Schadenfreude Fix

Each time the World Cup comes around, I think that it will finally be the year that I will be able to truly adopt my patriotism.  After all nothing brings out that nationalistic pride you’ve been keeping in the dusty cupboard along with all those boardgames that you used to play Ages 5-6 (as stated on the box) better than a hearty helping of goals en route to the topping of an easy group.  Oh right, we’re talking about England.

Call me emotionally lazy but watching England fail is far less taxing than it is watching them succeed.  That being because England can never succeed in the conventional, stress free sense.  Save that one time when they beat Denmark 3-0 in 2002, my enduring memories of that game being watching Thomas Helveg crash into the goal post trying to stop a goal bound header and Rio Ferdinand’s entry for “Football’s Most Embarrassing Goal Celebrations”.

Watching England play at the World Cup is akin to Chinese Water Torture.  You watch as Emile Heskey proves to you that there is still more that he can get wrong in the game of football.  Drip.  Wayne Rooney waves his arms in frustration on at least four occasions.  Drop.  The commentator mentions how England have “yet to find their stride” or “click into gear”.  Drip.  Injury to a talismanic player.  Drop.

Whereas with teams like Brazil, Spain, Holland, it’s more like experiencing an upscale Thai massage.  You’re treated to players stroking the ball about the pitch with nonchalant ease, lightning quick counter-attacks being launched and the coveted “end-to-end stuff”.  Ultimately, the ending of said game will most likely be a happy one and there will be a genuine sense of satisfaction at the full time whistle. Ahem.

The English World Cup campaign that provided this overwhelming sense of inertia most acutely was that of 2006.  Collectively, over the 5 games that the England’s footballing lions braved through I estimate that I mentally aged approximately 13.276 years due to noxious combination of stress, frustration and confusion.  I  remember watching England’s opening excursion into consummate boredom against Paraguay at school and before kick-off the sense excitement was palatable.  Yet after a 1-0 victory (if use of such a word is appropriate) via an own goal, the collective sense of lethargy in the room was almost too much to bear.

More was to come with triumphs over Trinidad and Tobago and Ecuador and consequently the belief of our fans contravened the rules of logic as England got closer to their preordained defeat to penalties.  Luckily in 2010, there is evidence of the God’s already smiling down upon England: Sweden are not in the World Cup sparing us the obligatory draw we have to sit through.

Come the World Cup, British football journalists lucky enough to cover England’s games must be getting ready to sit back and relax.  This being because they can simply rely on using the old “Synonyms for Disappointing” textbook.  Word’s like: unconvincing, witless, unimpressive, discouraging and many more appear all too regularly in the myriad column inches dedicated to England’s pursuit of glory.  Unfulfilled potential is mainstay of conversations in pubs up and down the land and talking heads on TV studio sofas try to pin down what exactly “it” is that England are missing.  And so it is that this collective madness turns to hilarity.  Fans who had been declaring, “This is our year,” no less than a minute before the final penalty miss, trudge away preaching realism.

In fairness, the build up to England’s World Cup campaign this year has been more modest than in previous years (despite the best efforts of Carlsberg and The Sun), yet my desire to see England fail remains as strong as ever.  Because above it all, above the pseudo-patriotic adverts that bombard our screens, above the thousands of flags strewn from homes across the country and above the fiercest of national pride you have to sit back and think – what type of team do we want to win the World Cup?

In a purely footballing sense it would be an absolute tragedy for the game if England were to win the World Cup.  Possession football doesn’t appear to be an option, however that could conceivably be cancelled out by dogged determination, defensive strength and outstanding team spirit a la Mourinho’s Inter Milan.  Yet this England squad has shown that they do not possess any of these qualities in the abundance required to overcome their glaring deficiencies.

The quiet sense of optimism that has followed Capello’s reign as England manager should surely be shattered each time a fleeting glance is made to towards the squads of genuine contenders as the huge disparity in quality made clear.  The squads of Spain, Brazil, Holland, Argentina tower over England with such superiority you have to wonder whether Capello and co. are getting cold standing the shadow of the true World Cup contenders.

I accept that the World Cup is all about getting behind your team, your nation, but it is just too hard for me to ignore the glaring injustice that would be England winning the World Cup in South Africa.  For football’s sake, I can’t wait until England get knocked out.

England kick off their 2010 World Cup campaign against the USA on 12 June. Here’s hoping…

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