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Monday, June 28, 2010 - 21:51 SGT
Posted By: Gilbert

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History Haunts

England Expects...

Well, it was The Sun, what did you expect?
(Source: majorleaguesoccertalk.com)

A quick re-examination of the English Expectation Cycle:

  1. England fans are sure that this is England's year!
    (Yes! Helped by a qualifying campaign that was actually good)
  2. England meet a former wartime enemy
    (Yes! [Dice roll] Dis time, it's... ze Germans! [Cue Hun and Kraut references])
  3. England knocked out early, fans moan about bad luck
    (Yes! Well, a fair few still do)
  4. England fans realise everybody else cheated
    (Yes, even if it's more on the "we wuz cheated" end this time. More on this later)
  5. Life goes back to normal, ho-hum
    (Well, most England fans aren't quite deluded enough as to be completely shocked...)
  6. Find a suitable scapegoat (e.g. Beckham, Ronaldo)
    (Yes! The finalists are Robert Green, Wayne Rooney, the entire defence and linesman Mauricio Espinosa. The winner is... Mauricio Espinosa! [Wild applause])
  7. Repeat everything, four years later
    (Some hope here, since most of this squad should be retired by the time the next World Cup rolls around)
To begin with, England weren't as horrible as they were made out to be. Put another way, they were dire, but not to the extent that schlepping a draw would have been a complete travesty; If Lampard's goal had been counted, and his free-kick that rocked the crossbar had been inches lower, or Rooney had not been incorrectly flagged offside in the 4th minute (by itself a horrendous decision that deserved to make the headlines, but somehow got relegated to at best third worst of the day!), things might have been very different.

The way I see it, there are two issues here: a) were England cheated? and b) did England deserve to lose? My answers: Yes and yes.

Let's begin with the part on losing. It's becoming painfully clear that England are just not that good (even if shorn of Ferdinand, Hargreaves, King, Scholes, etc), and are probably not in the top ten of the world (FIFA generously put them at eighth). Clearly, in terms of teamwork and technique, they aren't even in the top thirty, from what I've seen in the tournament so far, but they do still have some brilliant individuals (on their day).

Given that England are probably somewhere between the 8th and 16th best team (cutting them some slack), then a Round of 16 exit is just par for the course, i.e. they have achieved more or less what could be expected of them, especially as they lost to a higher-ranked German side (Argentina are just seventh and Greece 13th, so take it with a grain of salt). In other words, it's the public's own fault for making England out to be what they aren't.

The manner of the defeat was another thing altogether, as England made Germany look better than they had any right to be.

First goal: Big goal kick. Big Man John Terry ignores it. Not-So-Big Man Matthew Upson left to close Klose down. Klose scores. Decent teams don't allow goal-kick assists. Period.

Second goal: Big Man not very fast, rest of defence not very smart. End of story.

Third goal: You know Frank Lampard's gonna shoot from the free-kick (deservedly so, I must add). Therefore, the courageous English defenders all rush after the shot, happily assuming that some of their teammates will be there for the less-glamorous job of mopping up the mess if the Germans counterattack. As they do.

Fourth goal: How slow is Gareth Barry? Enough said.

Summing up, Germany's goals were mainly due to England being some combination of slow and silly - pensioner slow and schoolboy silly. David James was slightly disappointing too, for while he can't be blamed for letting in any of those, all of the goals, except perhaps the last one, were savable. In other words: England no good.

Sepp Blatter vs. The Eye of Tech...

However, if past World Cups and Euros are any indication, the representative image (and video) for English fans will be this, which brought up the spectre of 1966 (the coincidence was not lost on Ladbrokes, who paid out on their "Geoff Hurst special"):

FIFA: Nope. Not over the line (Source: Redandwhitekop Forums)

It must be said that this isn't even a close decision, where FIFA president Sepp Blatter's "ten different experts will have ten different opinions on what the decision should have been" applies. Most anybody with two eyes, and standing within twenty metres, would have seen the ball go over the line. Thousands of fans there did. Millions of viewers all over the world did.

But the referee and his linesman didn't, and that's all that counted.

However, I'm now of the opinion that the match officials shouldn't shoulder the bulk of the blame for such incidents; It's something like ordering three men to watch twenty-two starving chickens squawking their way around a ring in real time, and note down exactly which fowl pecked which. The referees shouldn't be the ones put on trial.

The FIFA argument against video evidence falls along the lines of a) it's too expensive, b) it takes too much time and c) it diminishes the human element and reduces the "fascination and popularity of football".

a) is patently bullshit for the top levels of football, and even if it is true for lower/grassroots football, it must be noted that such matches seldom have three FIFA-approved officials, a well-marked pitch, goalposts, or even a proper ball.

As for b), the time taken by players arguing obviously erroneous decisions (as Mexico did when Tevez's goal was allowed despite being miles offside) far outstrips what a video replay would take. Ironically, the match officials (and the audience) in the Argentina-Mexico saw their mistake staring at them from the JumboTron at the stadium, but couldn't legally rescind their decision according to FIFA rules.

c) actually makes sense in a twisted sort of way, if one considers that promotions like the World Wrestling Entertainment would be less popular if the wrestlers went about their jobs honestly. It is probably true that the mistakes evoked stronger emotions and reactions than even the most beautiful of moves. But is that the point of sport?

Anyway, even if video evidence were used to banish only the most egregious miscalls (the Carroll blunder deserves a mention), there would still be plenty of drama left to mine. Behold:

Assassination scandal at the World Cup!
(Source: worldcupblog.org)

Here's where a GIF animation might not tell the whole truth: if one looks closely, the Chilean player's knee does brush Torres' right foot, which led to that foot hitting the back of his left calf... which was the signal for a sniper to take the poor guy down from the stands. Note the telltale unnatural "archer bow" [I would have put Rooney's superman dive against the Germans up, but as with the rest of his performance, it was substandard].

There's also always innovation, and following on the heels of such breathtaking tricks as the Zidane 360, the Ronaldinho elastico and the Blanco bounce, South Africa 2010 has seen... the Heskey stepover-cum-shoulderdrop:

Defender guaranteed to be flummoxed

And of course we get the lighter side of the beautiful game, such as when a cameraman gets too close to celebrating players:

Because one good hit deserves another

...That Every Ham Shall Do His Duty

Do not concern yourselves. Mr. Ham is putting together a PETA wet affairs team now.

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