Friday, June 16, 2006

today : when winning just isn't enough

Yeah alright, I know. England have huffed and puffed their way through their first two world cup matches and looked anything but a cup-winning team. But despite the fact that their football has been prosaic and dull, they haven't really looked like conceding a goal and have managed to score three, winning both games so far.

Yet people are still not satisfied. The airwaves and papers are full of analyses: most of which seem more concerned with the performance than the result. In fact, many people, in their fury that Sven didn't pick the players, set the tactics or make the substitutions that THEY would pick set and make. People are angry that their team didn't live up to their hopes. Yet what do people hope for? For some, winning isn't enough.

During the 1-0 win against Paraguay the BBC TV pundits were overcome with anger that Michael Owen was subbed, despite in the weeks before questioning his fitness and match sharpness. They were also fuming that England didn't play well. These are the same people whom, week in, week out opine about there being no easy games at this level and that form and ranking go out the window when it comes to cup football. Well, hello? We are at this level and this is a cup competition. That's why when you win it you get a big shiny cup.

During the 2-0 win over Trinidad and Tobago the BBC radio pundits became audibly angry at England's performance. This was spun out into a deeply pessimistic conjecture-fest about later rounds and matches. It was almost as if England had not won the game and become the second team in the tournament to guarantee their place in the next phase. Basically, it all came down to the fact that, yes you guessed it, Sven didn't pick the players, set the tactics or make the changes THEY would make. One or two of the pundits and plenty of the journalists also allow, in such moments, their true feelings to emerge. It appears that they don't want England to win because they hate Sven Goran Erikkson. This hatred goes all the way back to when Sven was hired and they howled in protest that a foreigner was being put in charge. It was sheer Xenophobia then, and remains so, if exacerbated by his predilection towards studiousness, getting paid stupid amounts of money and boffing everything in sight. There is also the fact that, before he was appointed, someone bet a load of money on him getting the job at 100-1 and won. My guess is that this person was an FA insider and resentment has built up in the football pundit village ever since.

The experts were all so disappointed that the Brazil team they hyped and hyped as completely unbeatable played disjointedly and were given a pretty stern test by Croatia. They won 1-0, scoring less goals than England did today. Not one of these experts even suggested that Brazil might struggle.

They seem to miss the basic truth about football. Sometimes you get lucky; sometimes you have to win ugly; sometimes everything goes right; sometimes everything goes not-quite-right; sometimes all of this happens to the other team too. I do wish they would own up to the fact that football is at it's heart unpredictable, and that when it comes to analyses and predictions they are pretty much guessing.

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