Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Hot Air: Talking Up England

I don't live in England, nor do I see English newspapers regularly, but there must be something really interesting, on a sociological level, going on there.

Despite mountains of evidence that indicate England is, at best, a mid-level power in international soccer, England and the English are always eager to proclaim that "this time it's different" and that the upcoming competition is going to be the one where they cover themselves in glory. Instead of excuses.

England qualified for South Africa 2010 a week ago, and already the stories are coming through about how England is a contender, or a favorite or the favorite to win the thing.

To wit:

Here is a Reuters story on Spanish national Xabi Hernandez allegedly touting the English as favorites to win the 2010 World Cup. At least, that's how it's being spun in the Johannesburg Sunday Times and by Reuters -- originally an English company and still very England-centric.

In fact, Xabi's brief remarks (and remarks always seem to be brief, in British journalism) are mostly about how he thinks Spain has a good shot at winning. Oh, and the English are pretty good and he respects the team's individual (my emphasis) quality of English players. As opposed to the collective?

And he likes Ivory Coast, too, and if Ivory Coast wins the World Cup, I'll sell my piano keys.

Then there is this story, from AFP (Agence France-Presse) featuring England coach Fabio Capella, who says his goal for his team is the championship match. At the least. He's not saying England will win it, but anything short of the final ... not acceptable.

What is the source of all this optimism? Apparently a nice run through Europe qualifying Group 6, which includes only one other serious soccer nation, Croatia. Unless you count Ukraine, and I don't. England is 8-0 so far. Grand. Andorra and Kazakhstan and Belarus couldn't qualify out of Concacaf, but those three represent five of England's eight victories.

Let's not forget England's international soccer history -- which English fans are keen to do. "It's about the past, it means nothing to this team, blah, blah, blah ..." but something basic and systemic is going on when the nation with the world's elite professional league has performed so abysmally on the big stages.

--England invented the game, and has the EPL, but it has won the World Cup once. O-n-c-e. In 1966. When the World Cup was in England. Since then, England has reached the semifinals of the World Cup only once, and didn't qualify at all three times. In the six other World Cup, England got to the quarterfinals four times ... and then crashed out. We're not talking about near misses here, that is.

--England never has won the Euro Cup. It didn't attempt to qualify in 1960, and since then it has two semifinals apperances, the most recent being in 1996 -- when it lost in the semis in England.

The English didn't even qualify for the 2008 edition of the event. And it went out of the most recent World Cup in the quarters. So, now, a team with lots and lots of the same guys who were part of those teams ... is going to win in South Africa?

Remember, no European team ever has won a World Cup outside of Europe. And England has won only once, and that was when the final was played in London.

We'll get excited about the English -- and start throwing around terms like "favorites" -- when they actually do something again. For now, England is mostly hype and hot air. And the real favorites are the usual suspects who have shown the guile and talent to win at the international level -- Brazil, Italy, Germany, Argentina (if it gets a real coach), and maybe Spain and the Netherlands.

Anyway, I find fascinating the self-delusion that English soccer fans apparently embrace. How many times do The Three Lions have to fall short before a sense that "maybe we're not really good at this" penetrates into the collective? However many times, we're not there yet, apparently.

1 comment:

  1. Citing your own evidence Spain and Holland are no less chronic underachievers in the World Cup than England. Argentina has never won outside of the Americas and without dubious circumstances. That leaves Italy, Brazil and Germany as the only legitimate favorites. no? And I don't think Italy or Germany can come close to winning it. But that doesn't mean there aren't about ten nations that can't dream. England certainly has as much talent as any team not named Brazil, which makes then no more delusional than the rest of them.