It’s the worst imaginable outcome for England. A group containing Algeria, USA and Slovenia is precisely what we didn’t need. Here’s why:
- We face a press avalanche of stupidity, bigotry and ignorance about the USA. This is where some of the ordinarily classy and intelligent bloggers will trip up too, as they did in 2006. I don’t just mean the ones who (a) think “soccer” is an Americanism, and (b) think that an excellent basis for comedy. I mean the ones who will, oh-so-thoughtfully, link to one or other of two kinds of article which will be present en masse come July: (a) “The US doesn’t get football, and this is a bad thing” and/or (b) (This from the US itself) “Soccer is for pussies! Etc.” Well, the US doesn’t get soccer to the extent that it is now a World Cup finals regular, has many players in the Premiership, dominates the online tactics discussion scene, dominates the Womens’ game, and bases its youth development on techniques from Holland and Italy. What the English mean when they say that the US doesn’t get football is that it hasn’t aped English “passionate” fan culture and English commentators’ terminology. But you don’t hear these same English accusing Canada, or New Zealand, or India, of not “getting football”, nor do they express anger at other very different football cultures, such as Japan. And that’s why it’s bigotry and baseless hatred under another name. Spend the early World Cup watching your classy, educated, nuanced journalists and bloggers disappear over that lip one by one. (Unfortunately, the prize for the first thoughtless mention of 1950 has already been won. 1950 isn’t relevant. It was a fluke, the US have put enormous work into getting where they are now, and, I suspect, would feel that they deserve more credit for that than they receive. Four years before 1950, England beat Holland 8-2. Is that relevant? Or worth digging up as it’s nearly World Cup year?
- Slovenia are exactly the kind of opposition that England seem incapable of respecting. (You can say the same for Algeria, who’ll be wondering if anyone saw just what they had to endure to qualify).And that’s begun already, for all Capello’s warning comments. Expect Slovenia to pass the ball around the England team before being robbed by bad luck, refereeing decisions and chicanery. Look forward to press conferences where Terry and Gerrard promise better performances next time. Slovenia put away a good Russian team with a first rate manager to get to the World Cup finals, and might have wanted a more interesting draw themselves: Holland, perhaps, or Argentina. For that alone, I hope they get through.
- If England do progress, we are told, they enjoy a straightforward route to the semi-finals, where they are likely to come across Brazil. In other words, we’ll scrape along, sneaking narrow, undeserved victories, confidence slowly ebbing as expectations rocket. Who wants this?
England probably aren’t going to win the World Cup. And even if they defy the odds and do so – for which they have no divine right, and no, it’s not “our turn” any more than anyone else’s – what kind of win is it, going the back doubles and avoiding the world’s best?
So – let’s do an Ireland and appeal. Not to be in or out. Let’s appeal to get England a real World Cup. Let’s swap with North Korea. Let’s match ourselves against Brazil, Portugal and the Ivory Coast. We might just surprise ourselves, but even if we don’t, at least the players will know they’re in a tournament, and there’ll be no “patriotic” underestimating of worthy opponents such as Slovenia and Algeria are in for. And we did OK the last time we met Brazil in the opening round of a World Cup outside Europe: