The Antagonist - Victory against the USA should be a formality
Published: 11 Jun 2010 - 06:59:04
Well here we go at last. Hang on to your hats. The World Cup emotional rollercoaster gets underway today, and for England fans tomorrow marks the end of a seemingly interminable wait and the beginning of a nerve-jangling four weeks (or maybe less).
The irony is that the first obstacle in our apparent date with destiny is a country which, traditionally, we class as our perpetual ally in all things conflictual.
In recent history, America has backed us in two World Wars and, subsequently, we followed them, somewhat unwisely perhaps, into Iraq and Afghanistan.
We collude amicably on economic and World matters generally and rarely does England as a single nation come up against them in the sporting sphere. They are an unusual foe for us in any context but tomorrow they become very much the enemy who stand in the way of our ultimate dream of lifting the World Cup.
A further irony is that, whilst to the average English footie fan winning the World Cup is the holy grail of sport, to an American, 'saccer' is considered very much a second-class activity in their sporting psyche, lagging a mile behind the rather pointless 'grid iron', baseball and even basketball in the nation's affections.
In the unlikely (nay impossible) event of an American triumph in South Africa, the ticker tape parades would be muted in a country whose utter summer devotion to the ludicrously misnamed World Series baseball is all-consuming.
This is probably just as well for the rest of the World because, if they did take it a bit more seriously, we could all be in real trouble and it would not be difficult to envisage total US domination of the game for years to come.
As it is, their national league is a joke; which is the reason that only three out of the 23 squad members play in it as opposed to 100% of the English squad playing in the Premier League. Of the other 20 who ply their trade abroad, only that good old all American tonguetwister, Oguchi Onyewu, plays for a top side, ACMilan, and even he has been very much used as a back-up player rather than a regular team member.
So, beating the USA should be a formality.
Apart from the World Cup in 1950 when they pulled off a 1-0 victory over the Old Country in what is still described by some as one of the greatest upsets in the tournament's history, England have never had a problem subduing their transatlantic neighbours. Indeed, as recently as May 2008,during Capello's honeymoon period, we saw a very average performance by England see off a completely uninspiring USA team 2-0 in a one sided bore of a match.
Easy then...no problem. On to the next game.
Except for the fact that World Cup matches do not always follow the form book. The USA have nothing to lose and a relaxed team can often surprise one shackled by the pressure of a nation’s unrealistic expectations.
Of course, a draw would not be a disaster. Even a defeat would not be the end of the world and we could conceivably progress in a runners -up spot with a win and a draw from the other two matches.
Winning the group would potentially, however, open up a potentially winnable route to the semi-finals, with Serbia and then, probably, Germany (don't panic!) our likely opponents before facing the mighty Brazil in the last four. It would also give the team the shot in the arm it desperately needs.
The problem with predicting the outcome of this match is that, despite an impressive qualifying campaign, England have stuttered and spluttered of late, riding their luck against a more skilful but toothless Mexico side, requiring two own goals to narrowly overcome the minnows of Japan and then unconvincingly beating a provincial side compared by one informed onlooker as being in the class of an English First Division side.
There is an unusual air of uncertainty and edginess around the England camp at the moment. All the right things are being said but the body language of the players during those warm up matches, the tetchiness of the manager, the unconvincing interviews with individual players, whose comments of harmony in the group seem to have been scripted or designed to curry favour from the management, indicates that maybe all is not well.
Let's hope that these negative symptoms are the understandable result of the tension players and management are experiencing whilst approaching the biggest tournament of their lives.
Let's also hope that a good performance and result against the Americans will trigger a surge of confidence that we can all share and propel England to greater glories further into the tournament.
That's two 'hopes' in consecutive sentences which, I suppose, is better than no hope at all.
PS: My prediction - England to win by one or two goals and, if he plays, Heskey to score.
- FOOTBALL.CO.UK BLOGGER:the antagonist
- Love him or loathe him you cannot ignore the Antagonist. His Friday blog tackles the big issues in our game today in an abrasive, often controversial style. He goes where others fear to tread. From wages to wags, diving to drugs - no subject is "off limits", no individual beyond reproach. Miss him at your peril!
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