Here we go again.
England and the World Cup.
The nation; swept up in a whirlwind of optimism, self-assurance and unsubstantiated certainty. This is it. This could be one. All the years of failures, disappointments and mediocrity. The long-awaited triumph we’ve been waiting for since 1966.
And then the football begins. “Oh, yeah, we aren’t very good, are we?”
But, hold on, maybe – just maybe – this is the year? Roy’s Boys can defy all the odds and become world champions in the backyard of the five-time winners.
Ah, fuck it. Here is what will really happen to Hodgson and co. this summer.
It will end in failure (and probably penalties)
Only England’s team of 1990 has emerged from a World Cup with an ounce of credibility post 1966 and it’s difficult to see that changing in Brazil. Indeed, the inevitable deficiency from the penalty spot* may actually be a welcome one this time round considering it will mean that England have at least qualified from Group D. In a section that contains Euro 2012 finalists Italy, Luis Suarez-inspired Uruguay and the North American giants (I’m sure Roy would agree) Costa Rica, England will have performed admirably to navigate their way into the second round.
*For the record, England have suffered shootout disappointment in 1990 (Germany), 1996 (Germany), 1998 (Argentina), 2004 (Portugal), 2006 (Portugal) and 2012 (Italy).
Wayne Rooney will flop. Again.
In many ways you could argue that Wayne Rooney symbolises England at the World Cup. Lots of promise yet very little end product. Not since Rooney burst onto the international scene as a rampaging and all-conquering teenager at Euro 2004 has the former Evertonian ever really threatened to display his ability at a major tournament. In 2006 injury hampered his progress before an indiscretion (stamping on the crotch of Ricardo Carvalho) against Portugal ended Rooney – and England’s – tournament. Similarly, in 2010 and 2012, there has been little to get excited about (barring a solitary strike against Ukraine).
For all Rooney’s plaudits domestically, there remains a very forthright argument that his best playing days are already behind him. Brazil is another opportunity for Rooney to announce himself on the world stage yet it may already be too late.
Someone will shoulder the blame
It would not be unfair to suggest that in the UK we have a bit of blame culture. It’s always someone’s fault. And we like to have a bloody good moan about it.
The same applies to football. Whether it’s the manager or the players (or, quite often, both), it’s very rare that an England team remains unscathed from an international tournament with reputations in tact. History shows the World Cup is a poison chalice for any England manager. Unrealistic and over-inflated expectations have left the likes of Fabio Capello and Sven Goran Eriksson with stains on their otherwise glittering CVs.
A display of tactical and technical inferiority
Barely a major tournament has gone by in recent times without widespread calls to review the English football pyramid. Just why do the likes of Portugal, Germany, Italy and (not to forget) Algeria make England look so distinctly average? Both an inbility to retain the ball and rigid tactical inflexibility have dominated the post-tournament complaints with calls to produce technically superior footballers who can handle the ball under pressure.
Well, this year, it’s likely that England will need at least one victory against a “leading” nation in order to progress past the first phase – something the national team can’t vouch for since beating Argentina 1-0 back in the 2002 World Cup (from a penalty, incredibly).
With all this being said, there is some degree of realisation about England’s chances of prospering this summer. Most bookmakers have England at 28/1 to win the tournament – behind the likes of France (a team that flopped catastrophically at the last World Cup) and Belgium (qualifying for the first time in 12 years).
Perhaps, after all, we know what to expect from England in Brazil.
Too right. That 28/1 is far too good to turn down.