Saturday, June 26, 2010

2010 World Cup: England v Germany

International football's biggest rivalry, apart from all the other big international rivalries, returns to entertain us.

England v Germany. Germany v England.

A footballing powerhouse with an enviable World Cup record meets a team that envies that record.

We all know that this particular rivalry began in the 1940's when England (represented by various nationalities) and Germany met in Paris.

That game was almost abandoned at half time but thankfully Russell Osman intervened and persuaded one of England's ringers - Sylvester Stallone - that the game could be won.

International football's most enduring rivalry, apart from all the more enduring rivalries, was born.

1966, 1970, 1990, 1996 and on and on.

Since that storied Wembley day in 1966 Germany have had the upper hand. Without being an expert on such matters I get the impression that this nags a bit at England's national psyche.

Had everything gone according to plan this game wouldn't be happening at this stage. But England stuttered against the United States before offering a more than passable impersonation of the Chipping Norton Red Lion 2nd XI against Algeria.

Such is the emotional tightrope of the World Cup as digested by the English media that an English win over Slovenia saw the pendulum swing from suicidal recrimination to unquestioning belief in 90 brief minutes of a much improved but still hardly world-beating performance.

For their part the Germans thrilled against a woeful Australia, were unlucky against Serbia and set about the job with every possible cliche of professional efficiency against Ghana.

Whatever else happened in the group stages, the two teams arrive at this match on the back of 1-0 victories that were not much more than functional.

They both need more than that if they are to progress.

History suggests that the Germans are favourites. They might be a young team who came into the tournament relatively unfancied. But they remain Germany. They've got a habit of winning these games. Stereotype. Probably. But they just do.

England have a habit of losing these games. It's often agonisingly close but it's still defeat.

But for some reason I've got a feeling that England might just sneak. Based on what? Not history, not form. Just a little feeling.

England's performances thus far have led to much soul searching and no little sniggering this side of the border. But Wayne Rooney hasn't become a bad player since arriving in South Africa. Fabio Capello hasn't become a bad manager since Robert Green fumbled a shot against the United States.

Do England lack the world class players that can win the World Cup? Yes. But so do Germany. And neither squad will feel that going out in what Clive Tyldesley might well call "the round of 16" is not a reflection of their ambitions.

England need to play better than they have done so far. They'll probably need Germany to have an off day.

Stranger things have happened.

Mind you, if it goes to penalties all bets are off.

I remain, as ever, neutral. But. Anyone wondering why the Anyone But England campaign rears it's head every two to four years (depending on qualification) should probably take a look at the English papers tomorrow morning. They might be perfectly sensible. Or they might display the English media at its jingoistic worst.

On the other hand: A note to the ABE squad. England aren't going to win the World Cup. Would it not suit your aim of laughing at England more if they beat Germany before a more agonising quarter final or semi final defeat? Just a thought.