“When England beat us they were incredible. Incredible. And for 20 minutes in the game they were perfect. Boosh! Pass. Boosh! Control on the chest. Boosh! The volley. Everything fast. It was like PlayStation,” said Slaven Bilic, referring to England's 5-1 thrashing of his Croatia team in September to qualify for the World Cup finals. “And now...when I watch them against USA...what has happened to your team?”
Good question, Slaven Bilic. It’s the one Fabio Capello is paid £6 million a year to answer; so it’s his fault. But they’re the same team and formation that thrashed Croatia 5-1 ‘like Playstation’, so it must be the players’ fault. They didn’t try hard enough, they have no heart. They tried too hard, became self-conscious and failed to express themselves. There’s something unique in the English mentality that means our players freeze on the big stage, which is why we never win the World Cup. France and Italy, the two most recent European winners, have been just as bad, so it’s just the way sport goes, nothing unique about us. Two draws against weak opposition is a catastrophic start. Unlike Spain and France, we’re unbeaten against weak opposition, so in context it’s far from a catastrophic start. If we can’t beat Algeria there’s no way we’re going to beat Slovenia; we’re exiting in humiliation. We always start slowly when we’re going to have a good competition – jeered off the pitch in the 1966 opener, scraping through in 86 and 90 – the shock will force us to radically change, improve and go all the way. It’s the usual: unconvincing progress from the group stage then a couple of good performances followed by elimination on penalties by Germany or Portugal.
England’s draws against the USA and Algeria thus far in the World Cup have been consistent with all of the above theories and predictions. Somebody will of course be right but they shouldn’t brag about it and say ‘I told you so’, any more than a sweepstake winner should claim clairvoyant powers. We are riding along right at the very edge of Time: behind us is an incomprehensible tangle of damn things; in front, the glare of the great unknowable at which the mind blanks. Helpless, we sound our vain opinions like vuvuzelas parping into the void.