Wednesday, June 23, 2010

2010 World Cup: England v Slovenia

It says much for the dearth of excitement that England have offered at this World Cup that even their implosion has been overshadowed by a French effort that has been truly magnificent.

To get one over on Domenech, Anelka, Evra et al John Terry would have had to repeatedly stick the heid on Ray Clemence whilst hollering "and yer ma" at Fabio Capello. It says much about Terry that such a scenario doesn't seem impossible.

Alas not. Instead he gave a press conference that, rather than rallying the troops, seems to have got little more than an embarrassed silence and some feet shuffling from his comrades in arms.

It was enough to get Capello irked but that seems to be all. If a clear the air session was needed then Terry's intervention didn't deliver the desired result.

England reached this sorry mess thanks to a mind blowingly bad performance against Algeria. It was awful. For a team with England's ambitions to perform in their second World Cup match like a group of reluctant strangers cajoled into a kickabout by an over eager Butlins redcoat suggests there is a problem somewhere.

Whatever friction may exist in the squad they should all be aware that more of the same will mean an early trip home. It's unlikely that the welcoming committee will be in a party mood.

So they must improve. But can they?

England should beat Slovenia. They should also have beaten Algeria.

The problem for the players is how to deliver a performance that is a more fitting reflection of their talent. And I don't say that as someone who subscribes to the view that this England team is full of world class players who ply their trade in the greatest league on earth. That is clearly a nonsense.

But they should still be capable of offering more than they did against Algeria. Even if they were at their wits end with the manager by last Friday they should have done more. Professional pride should kick in. National pride should kick in. What do they think they are? French?

It was the media's chosen angle that this England squad carried the weight of 44 years of hurt on their shoulders, all the way back to that rarely mentioned day in 1966.

Somehow the players now find themselves fighting 52 years of history.1958 was the last time an English team went to the World Cup and crashed out in Round 1.

Obviously this predicament had caused no little celebration north of the border.

Fair enough.

But I'm genuinely perplexed at how a good manager and a solid, if not world beating, squad have managed to be so poor. Theories abound, of course, but if England lose today might people come to the conclusion that player power in the English Premier League makes the national team all but unmanageable?

Maybe we're all too influenced by the hysterical, contradictory, schizophrenic English media. Lest we forget England have been here before. In 1990 when another manager was being written off, stories of unrest were spreading like the winter vomiting bug and all seemed doomed.

That squad reached the semi finals and Bobby Robson became a national treasure.

So, whether Scotland likes it or not, England are not yet dead and buried. I think they'll secure the win they need today and go through to the last 16.

I expect them to have improved, to at least give a display of some strength and defiance against the World Cup's smallest nation.

England expects. Too much as it turns out. But, today at least, they should deliver.

USA v Algeria

Group C's other game today. I suspect the United States will be able to get past Algeria to ensure qualification. The Bleacher Report slideshow has details on what each country needs to do. Basically a win will make England's life a lot easier in a number of different ways. England and USA to go through I think.