Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Zinedine Zidane for France (vs England), 13 June 2004

Tonight, England take on Northern Ireland in Belfast for the first time in 18 years. The last time the two sides met it was in a qualifying game for the 1988 European Championships, and England cruised onwards to their humiliation in the Finals with a 0-2 win (goals courtesy of Gary Lineker and Bryan Robson). Something similar would do for England tonight, but their fans have got rather higher hopes for their side's chances in Germany in 2006 the 3 defeats and early elimination that they got in 1988.


Sorry. I just can't do this. I just can't bring myself to get excited about an international football game featuring England, particularly not one coached by Sven Goran Eriksson. Can you not just see the game mapping out in front of you? Even if they manage to win comfortably, it will somehow seem like a real struggle. The defence won't really be tested, although the goalkeeper may have to make on heart-stopping save at 0-0. The midfield will launch long balls towards the back-end of the box from just over the halfway line at their giant target-men (Michael Owen and Wayne Rooney). We will barely see a cross worthy of the name as both the English "wide players" will drift into the congested heart of the midfield. Someone will probably pick up a pointless booking. There will be several negative substitutions in the second half, with someone like Owen Hargreaves coming onto the pitch to no great effect and one of the more creative players being withdrawn. There will be few clear cut chances, and an England win will not completely manage to gloss over another disappointing game and the overall impression will be one of a side and a manager lacking in ideas.

'Twas ever thus.

I can only recall a couple of games I have really enjoyed: England v Germany in 1990 (in spite of the result). England v Holland in Euro 1996 (because of the result). I think that's probably it. Watching England has been a chore and frankly I'm tired of it, World Cup year or not.

Yes, I'm sure England will qualify fairly comfortably. Yes, I'm sure it will be hard not to get swept along in the build up to the tournament next summer. Apparently England are amongst the favourites. Do we really have the grounds to be optimistic though? England have some great players, for sure. Do you really think they are going to be deployed in a way that will make England consistently threatening to sides like Brazil? I just can't see it. We simply don't seem to have the tactical creativity and flexibility to enable us to break games open. When faced with either talented or determined opponents, we struggle to make openings. It will be boring, and it is likely to end in disappointment.

Sorry, but there you are. Watching Phil Neville and Owen Hargreaves hacking around the pitch kicking lumps out of anyone they can get near enough to is not my idea of the beautiful game. No, instead of that, I think I'm going to watch France v Ireland instead, mainly to see if Roy Keane and Patrick Viera can make it out of the tunnel in one piece, and to time how long it takes for Zinedine Zidane's 'knock' on his leg to receive its first "reducer".

Ah, how sweet it is to see the greatest creative talents in football 'neutralised' by cloggers.

Maybe I'll just read a book.


LB said...

There are tens, nay hundreds of nations in the world that would give their respective right arms to get to the quarter finals of the World Cup. Which is where we'll get.

I, for one, will take a boring 1-0 win in every game between now and the World Cup Final, thank you very much. I didn't see the Greeks moaning about the lack of creative football on their way to winning the Euros.

It's a qualifying game. A 1-0 win will suffice. It's not an exhibition game for showboating, it's a means to an end to get us to the World Cup.

Most games of international football are dull, because teams are becoming more level, more talented and therefore more able to negate their opposition. That's not just England, I bet the France v Ireland game is dull as well.

It's a results business, and, as such, I'll take the plane ticket to Germany however we get there.

At least with Sven you know there is some tactical nous. Watching England under Kevin Keegan was like watching someone driving the wrong way up the motorway; often exciting but liable to end in disaster. So I think you're being harsh, better to win the World Cup playing dour football than lose 4-3 in the first round....

swisslet said...

having more tactical nous than Keegan is not a recommendation. I agree with you that a 1-0 win in every qualifying game would do nicely, no matter how it is achieved. Do you seriously expect England to magically be a threat in the world cup having bumbled through a simple qualification group without ever looking remotely dangerous? Beating Wales 0-1 is great for qualification, but is not great preparation for sterner tests ahead, nor does it breed any of that magical "x" factor that will be required: confidence. We are plodding through our qualification group on auto-pilot and are in danger of being dangerously off the pace when it really matters.

And there are lots of countries for whom a world cup 1/4 final would do nicely, but most of them aren't as self-important as England, who like to believe that we somehow have a divine right to be better than that. "only" winning one world cup is like a festering sore on our national psyche.

And yes, France v Ireland probably will be dull. Too many of those players are from the tactically sterile premiership for it to be otherwise.


swisslet said...

I've been thinking about this some more. I reckon that if I had a choice between England winning the world cup with a series of dour 1-0s, or someone else winning the world cup in a thrilling way, I would pick the latter.

I think this marks me out as a fan of football rather than an England fan, does it not?

(quite how it leaves me as a Wolves fan, I'm not sure)


swisslet said...

el tel. so. what happened then? tactically sterile or what?