In keeping with the theme of the World Cup, I want to talk about the one thing that perplexes me more than why anyone would think it a good idea to blow a vuvuzela: the English media's portrayal of their national team.
While there are 32 teams that enter the World Cup, we know that a few are just there to make up the numbers. Barring a miracle, they will be gone in the first round and serve merely as an appetiser to main course. Then there are a few nations that could get to the 2nd round or if they are lucky reach the quarter finals, but that's it. Then there are a number of nations who could be there come finals time. Even fewer are nations who could really go on and win it. While football can bring surprises, unexpected wins and failed expectations, realistically we have a fair idea of when a nation under or over-performs.
What perplexes me is that England keep getting put in that final category, the expectation on this team and every English team from my football memory is that they will add to the sole trophy they won in 1966. Yet they continually fail to meet the lofty expectations. Even the WAGs are used as an excuse for the persistent failure.
Yet it all makes sense if England are classified wrongly. They aren't world-beaters, nor have they really put forward a team for a long time that were capable of being so. The English media has it wrong, this World Cup especially given they didn't qualify for Euro 2008!
Perhaps this is being a little harsh, but I can't really see what justifies the pressure and expectation put on England. Where are their match-winners? Where will the goals come from? Who in the side can come off the bench and be a game changer? Back in 2002, there was so much press about David Beckham and that injury that could have ruined England's chances. And it did, because England has a David Beckham type character they put all their hopes in and that's it. This time around it's Wayne Rooney, who is on his day a world class player. But that's it!
Looking at other countries it's easy to see why they are put up as potential tournament winners. Spain: Euro 2008 champions boasting a line-up that could front any team in the world. Argentina: so blessed in talent that they can leave Inter's Diego Milito on the bench. Brazil: they could afford to leave Ronaldinho at home while still boasting a formidable line-up and 5-time winners. Germany: a great track record at World Cups. That's just to name a few.
It's important to remember that if you just take four nations: Argentina, Brazil, Germany, and Italy, you have at least one of the finalists from every one of the 18 world cups so far. They account for 14 of the 18 trophies. Another thing to consider is that every World Cup held outside Europe has had a non-European victor. While I have no reason to expect that trend to continue indefinitely (in 1994, a penalty shoot-out was the only barrier to it being broken) it's still a reason not to expect a European team to do well. My money if I were a betting man would be on Argentina.
But back to England, perhaps my anti-English bias has led me to ignore just what is so great about the team. I can't see them as being a serious competitor yet again. They are a quarter final team expected to compete with powerhouses who are more technically proficient and have a greater depth.
If they are bundled out tomorrow, I will not be surprised in the slightest. Even if they do make it through the group phase, it's only a matter of time until they inevitably exit and the media starts looking for an excuse. Yet without good reasons to expect them to emulate what happened in 1966, it's just creating unrealistic expectations for their adoring public. They are a quarter final team (at best) that are expected to be world-beaters. No wonder they have an irate fan-base!