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with someone like Owen Hargreaves coming onto the pitch to no great effect and one of the more creative players being withdrawn.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.