Sunday, 21 October 2007

A Tale Of Two Englands

At the start of the week, the nation was buzzing. With the Rugby team in the World Cup final, the Football team on the brink of qualification for next summer’s European championships and Lewis Hamilton in pole position to win the Formula 1 championship in his debut season, there was certainly a feel-good factor around the country.

As of right now, Hamilton’s fate is as yet undecided so let take a look at the two team sports. Yes, ultimately both sides ended up losing and yes both sides can lament contentious decisions that didn’t go their way but that is where the similarities end.

On Wednesday, an insipid performance by the footballers resulted in a 2-1 reverse against Russia leaving chances of qualification hanging by a thread.

Last night, a battling performance from the Rugby lads was sadly not good enough to overcome a strong South African side.

Learning lessons

A draw would have been good enough for England on Wednesday but once again with English football, lessons have not been learnt from the mistakes of the past.

Under Svennis, the fans and media would frequently bemoan the fact that England would all too often sit back when ahead. Brazil and Portugal are occasions when this has proved costly.

On Wednesday, following Wayne Rooney’s wonder goal, England were content to invite wave after wave of Russian pressure. The defence got deeper and deeper and it was only a matter of time before Russia were back in the game. Yes, Gerrard’s miss was pretty awful (any chance of him being booed by fans? Unlikely) but it was one of very few opportunities England fashioned on the break and we should be at the stage where we aren’t saying ‘if only’ to just the one counter attack. If England had taken the game to Russia as they did at Wembley, Gerrard’s miss may have proved irrelevant.

This raises the issue of why Brain Barwick and his cohorts at the FA decided to hire a man who was part of the same set-up as Svennis if they indeed wanted a change.

By contrast, Brian Ashton realised that the 36-0 set-back in the group stages against the Springboks could not be repeated and changed tactics completely.

It was a different England last night. Strong in the tackle, England posed far more of a threat than five weeks ago. England played to their strengths and were almost rewarded. Unfortunately, they were up against a solid South Africa side who did enough to secure their first world title since 1995.

The World Cup final wasn’t a pretty spectacle that will live long in the memory (the ball spent more time in the air than a fighter jet in the Middle East) but it was far from boring. South Africa were ultimately the better side but England did their best, despite a couple of errors, to make it sure that it wasn’t easy for them at any stage.

After the initial thrashing, Ashton wasn’t afraid to make changes. Compare this to McClaren’s refusal to drop Paul Robinson despite the fact he was an accident waiting to happen (and so it proved).

Even after the football team win, it’s difficult to have a sense of achievement because, as has been noted many, many times, there is an underlying belief that we have the players/squad to be so much better. Whether this view is right or wrong, it seems very rarely that we get the chance to see it.

Even in defeat last night, the English could be proud of what they witnessed. The team showed 100% commitment in Paris. Even if the result wasn’t what was required, spectators were safe in the knowledge that the lads did their best. This isn’t something we can often say about footballers. The so-called golden generation flattered to deceive at the last World Cup less to do with lack of talent, but more to with not putting in the same kind of effort they do week in, week out for their clubs. Rather than addressing these issues however, we instead get excuses about the pitch (yes, the same unfamiliar surface that BOTH teams played on) and reffereeing decisions. You'll hardly hear anyone complain about the fact that the officials got a BIG decison wrong last night in Paris.

...and it was only a matter of time before the catastrophic scenario of not qualifying for a major tournament would become reality.

I would like to think that Gerrard, Lampard, Ferdinand et al had an opportunity to watch their fellow countrymen last night. Sadly, I doubt it.

But alas, two defeats mean that England once again fail to impose themselves on the world game (in sports that we invented no less). Here’s hoping that Lewis Hamilton can help improve the mood later today.

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