Saturday, December 5, 2009

Some of the English Get a Grip on Chances

I did a post a few months ago noting the quadrennial giddy-ness that is a particularly English feature in the run-up to the World Cup. Or should we call it "barmy-ness"?

As erstwhile Masters of the Game ... as the home to the richest and most prominent pro league ... the English seem to feel as if they ought to win the World Cup again sometime soon, and they have a point. They have some nice players who play on the largest of stages.

And it is their sport, after all. Or was originally. Imagine the United States going 44 years between basketball world championships. Right. Unthinkable.

So, yes, there is generic English happiness about being drawn into what doesn't appear to be a difficult group -- Group C, with the United States, little Slovenia and underwhelming Algeria.

Patrick Barclay of the once-reserved London Times practically hyperventilates in this piece while describing why England not only has a great draw ... but is his choice to win the Whole Tournament. You'll have to go to the link. His gushing would make this item too long ... and too soggy.

But not everyone in England is banking on their lads hoisting the Jules Rimet Trophy (or is the Jules Verne Trophy?) on July 11.

Here is one snarky naysayer, Paul Hayward, in the pages of The Guardian, one of England's leading newspapers, counseling national skepticism, given England's recent history of World Cup failure:

"In the last two decades England have limped home from Italy (1990), traipsed back from France (1998), stumbled west from Japan (2002) and sounded the retreat from Germany (2006), where Wayne Rooney was sent off in a quarterfinal defeat to Portugal.

"Next summer's competition therefore presents a fresh opportunity: to be knocked-out on a whole new continent, in winter time, rather than the clammy temperatures that help redden faces, along with the tears. To break this anti-climactic pattern, the FA have hired two foreign managers on a salary of £5m a year each. Four years is long enough for the memory of the last implosion to fade and expectation to erupt again, but there is no disguising the gulf between the Premier League's wealth and power and the under-performance of the national team.

"(Coach Mario) Capello caught the infectious mood yesterday. 'I believe the facilities will be perfect for a great tournament, and the fact that the people here love football will make it even more special to be part of it,' he said. 'If you are the manager of England, it must be your aim to win the World Cup. That is the only thing that matters.' The special relationship, if it exists, is on hold."

Ouch. But give the man credit: He hasn't been slurping the "this is England's year; no, really" Kool-Aid that most of his countrymen have been quaffing by the gallon. (Though he could also have mentioned the failure to qualify for the World Cup, at all, in 1994.)

Not that England shouldn't do well. It ought to win Group C, and then face a fairly difficult Round of 16 match -- against Serbia or Ghana, most likely. But the English also don't have to play Brazil, Spain, Italy or Netherlands before the semifinals. And that can't be bad.

England was immediately installed as third-favorite to win the Cup, at 11-2 odds, behind only Brazil and Spain.

Meanwhile, Alan Hansen, writing in the Telegraph, laid out what certainly is the standard English analysis of their 2010 chances.

Wrote Hansen: "England have landed what can only be described as a dream draw and Fabio Capello will be delighted with it.

"If you start worrying about facing the likes of USA, Algeria and Slovenia, then you really shouldn’t be in the World Cup.

"Everything is in England’s favour. They will play two games at sea level, the weather conditions will suit them perfectly and the draw opens up kindly.

"England will be based at altitude, so they will be well prepared when they face the US in Rustenburg in the opening game.

"Algeria and Slovenia shouldn’t pose too many problems, although Algeria could be awkward for the other two teams and I’d go for them to finish second.

"If England win the group, as they should, the second round doesn’t hold too many fears. Even if it’s the Germans, Capello’s players won’t be scared of that.

"The only downside is that Brazil look likely to be waiting in the semi-finals if England get that far, but you would take that right now.

"England’s second team lost narrowly to Brazil in Doha, but it will be a different scenario altogether in a World Cup semi-final.

"Brazil aren’t the Brazil of 1970 or 1982, when they were the best team never to win the World Cup, so who knows what could happen?

"All Capello needs now is his team to perform."

Wow. If the English just show up ... gotta love their chances. Just like every other World Cup since the only one they won ... at home, just the other day, in 1966.

Jeffrey Marcus, writing on the New York Times's "Goal" blog, noted that the Americans feared getting into a group with two Euro powers (say with Portugal or France, as well as a seeded Euro) ... and suggested England might be a bit of a break for the Yanks, 2-7 all-time against England.

Wrote Marcus: "The United States was scooped out of the bowl and plopped into Group C with England," Marcus wrote, "of whom much is always expected and little delivered."

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