Of course it couldn’t last, the English and the Irish united against an injustice suffered by the latter but felt, too, by the former. Shane Breslin, who presides over the lively craic at Ireland’s eleven-a-side football site, draws attention to his thoughts on the “triumphalism” of English reaction to the World Cup draw. All enough, he suggests, to bring the Irish to their senses and quickly drop France as pantomime enemies because the English were, are and always will be the real thing. Shane’s a good lad, much liked at Salut! Sunderland (which generally has little time for internationals anyway). But he is guilty of disregarding both widespread English support for the Irish cause in Paris and also the fact that the reaction he criticises was more a press thing than an English thing. Build ’em up, then knock ’em down and, once they’re there, give ’em a good kicking. This is his piece. See what you think (and pop over to his site to check the mixed response there)…
England’s first potential stumbling-block will be Brazil in the semi-finals. That’s how one newspaper reacted to the World Cup draw at the weekend, nicely doing its bit to restore the old enemy to its rightful place.
I don’t want to be xenophobic here – we all know the English do that better than anyone – but the reaction to Friday evening’s World Cup draw from our neighbours reminds us that they will soon replace France as our chief enemies once more.
In the aftermath of events in Paris last month, the French are the villains du jour for Irish football folk, but on a list of England’s sporting adversaries we come well below not only them, but the Scots and the Aussies as well.
In fact, there is some suggestion that the English look on us as cousins: a little annoying and sometimes wayward, but part of the Great British family nonetheless.
Let’s face it, the opposite applies from this side of the Irish Sea. We loathe the English more than anyone else and we’re comfortable with that, even if it is for the most part unrequited.
Given the age-old enmity between England and France, traditionalists here discovered that the casting of Raymond Domenech or Michel Platini as chief villain placed us snugly in England’s corner.
Uneasy bedfellows that we are, then, it was equal parts nauseating and heartening to witness the trombone of triumphalism emanating from across the water after Friday’s World Cup draw in Cape Town.
Check out this from Matt Lawton in the Daily Mail:
A last 16 encounter against Germany is possible but, if we assume that they remain the masters of tournament football and they win their group, England will probably meet Ghana or Serbia, perhaps even Australia.
The winners of Group A would then probably follow in the quarter-finals, and even if they did need to cheat to get here, the smart money must be on that being France. This is not, however, the French team who reached the final four years ago, but one who so nearly lost to the Irish in the play-offs.
Only in the semi-final will the place in the final which Capello craves come under serious threat, because Brazil will almost definitely be waiting for them. At least England should avoid Spain until the final, assuming both win their groups.
Just to drill home the point, you must read one line again: “Only in the semi-final will the place in the final which Capello craves come under serious threat.”
Ha! This from a country which has made underachievement an art form; which has reached the last four of a World Cup once since they won the trophy, in England, almost 50 years ago; which, despite a feeble record in international tournaments, never fails to burden its footballers with intolerable pressure.
Before they get irrevocably ahead of themselves, let us remind them of their shortcomings.
You don’t have to go far on any England teamsheet to find the first weak link. Paul Wilson in The Observer – a voice of reason amid the clamour – perhaps puts it best when he describes Fabio Capello’s options as “a succession of comedy goalkeepers”.
David James, Robert Green and Ben Foster shared the position during the qualifiers but James has become increasingly injury prone as he approaches his 40th birthday, Green has conceded two goals a game with West Ham this season and Foster cannot even make the Manchester United bench for Carling Cup games.
Ahead of the goalkeeper, where exactly are the stars? Steven Gerrard? Headless chicken par excellence, and one whose importance to the Liverpool cause has been exaggerated by a couple of timely and brilliant goals. The travails of this season surely demonstrate that Xabi Alonso, and not Gerrard, was the driving force behind Liverpool’s challenge for Premier League honours last year.
John Terry and Frank Lampard have both leadership abilities and success on their CVs but given their form, would you trust either of them in a penalty shoot-out? Rio Ferdinand was already on the slide before injury struck, and there must be a doubt about whether he’ll even make the team next summer. If Matthew Upson’s the answer, what’s the question? Gareth Barry? You’re joking. Shaun Wright-Phillips? Come off it.
Only Ashley Cole, Aaron Lennon and Wayne Rooney can truly lay claim to world-class status. The rigidity of Capello’s system, which favours Peter Crouch or Emile Heskey, robs the team of another potential star in Jermain Defoe.
When the wailing and gnashing of teeth is heard again, as it is so predictably every four years, the Irish populace will chuckle en masse.
By hook or by crook, we usually fail to qualify but there’s always the consolation that we have at least three countries to adopt, and it will be the same next summer.
Sure, don’t America and Ireland have a special relationship? Can’t we empathise with the Algerians and their long struggle against a colonial oppressor? Slovenia is small and mainly Catholic. They may as well be ourselves.
My prediction: England are pipped to top spot in their group by those Johnny-come-latelys from the States and come unstuck in the last 16 against Germany.
Ciao, Fabio. ‘Twas nice while it lasted.
* Edited by Colin Randall