Monday, June 28, 2010

Oh all right then

Germany were better than England but not as much as everyone says. The disallowed goal was the first critical moment because 2-2 at half-time would have made it a completely different game, England would have had momentum and Germany would not have been able to play on the break in the second half. The second critical moment was Gareth Barry’s failure to hit the ball first time from an England corner; he tried to trap it, failed and Germany scored the third from the break. Up until then I was fairly confident England would equalise as they were in control.

Germany would still have been a better team than England but, as everyone who knows the game knows, football is a game in which the worse team often wins, through luck, fight and critical moments of inspiration or individual error. Being the superior team merely increases, in theory, your odds of creating more chances than your opponent. Over a league season the best team always wins; in knockouts they often don’t. The margins are very fine: for the winners, flukes are always forgotten and for losers bad luck is never forgiven.

In hindsight it is easy and fun to say how rubbish we were because the thing we English enjoy most after winning is wallowing in a loss. At the World Cup finals there is only one winner and 31 losers. Therefore there will always be reasons why 31 teams failed. For England, take your pick.

None of which is to excuse the consistently poor showings of this so-called ‘Golden Generation’, a team of neurotic talents who have underperformed every time they’ve been put on the big stage. This time, Capello found a way to make them perform in the qualifiers, but failed in the tournament. In tournament football, you just need to get lucky enough to find a team that functions for a brief period. Capello’s biggest mistake was sticking rigidly to a formula which obviously wasn’t functioning in this particular brief period. But then again, had that Lampard goal stood, he might have won, and there’d be another roll of the dice and another chance for it to suddenly click.

The ‘root and branch’ theories about why English football is doomed to failure are irrelevant. England’s cricketers have been pummelled for years for their poor limited-overs efforts. The rest of the world, we were told, had left us way behind, we’ve got it wrong at the root. Suddenly, by who knows what series of flukes and inspirations, the team has found a way to function and we’re world T20 champions and duffing up the Aussies at will. The strange thing about sport is that you never know when success might suddenly sneak up on you. Mostly, it doesn’t, and the default state for sports fans is suffering and disappointment. This is something that those for whom sport is a constant companion, rather than a quadrennial distraction, know in their bones.


Willard said...

I knew you couldn't resist.

In my heart, I thought we were the better team (I always thought we'd win and comfortably) but on the day we also made more mistakes. And this is our problem. Like Liverpool this season, our team had too many injuries -- a back two that had rarely played together. I also worry that we play too many of our best players out of position.

The disallowed goal was key, though. It allowed Germany to sit back, we piled on the pressure, and they caught us repeatedly on the break.

The media make me laugh, though. Maradonna is now being fêted as the greatest manager the world has ever seen whilst (mainly on account of his hug/match ratio). Capello, on the other hand, is reduced to crawling on his knees to the FA in order to beg to keep his job.

Brit said...

Yes, Argentina scraped into the tournament way back a few weeks ago when Maradona was a useless manager who didn't know what he was doing and Capello was a genius whose disciplined approach had eliminated England's problems under Sven (another former genius who became useless) and Steve McLaren (who was always useless but has recently become a genius in Holland).

Willard said...

LOL. So true. And isn't football the sport that gave us the saying that 'form is temporary but class permanent?'

I just want some goal line technology and (ideally) give managers two appeals a match. Between LFC's corrupt owners, the greed of the FA making us play too much football, and FIFA's stupidity, I'm beginning to dislike football.

Mark said...

Good points, Willard. Perhaps it's time to chuck the money-lenders out of the temple? There seems to have been a bad feeling about the England team and its manager(s) for a long time now, a sense that nothing good will come from a system built on such graft and greed.

Perhaps the FA should announce that in future all Premier Division and national teams must be managed by a clergyman. My experience is that these gents are often very far from being gentle shepherds. They are highly resourceful infighters and strategists capable of plotting sweet revenge for years. Just the qualities now required of an England manager, in fact.

Willard said...

I'd be more than happy to see the Premier League get a little Old Testament. And let is be said that on the 91st minute, Gerrard smote the Mancunianites.

worm said...

I disagree a bit - I think that the germans were definately the better team all round, and would have stuffed us regardless of the second goal. Our players might be individually good but as a team they are rubbish. No idea why!

Brit said...

Well these events are all happening in alternative universes, so anything is possible in them. The only thing we know for sure is that if the officials hadn't ruled out the goal, Germany wouldn't have won 4-1.

Sean said...

Good post, in short, "luck matters and admitting it matters more" Ed Smith I believe?

I say to my kids to the point of boredom, hard work matters more than luck, the reason they recite "hard work allows you capitalise on your luck and deal better with it if it goes against you"

As I pointed out in your last post, it was patience that lost it for England, at 2-1 down you stay calm, you dont look at the clock, you dont listen to the crowd. You disregard the luck that has gone against you. And that takes hard work Brit, its a very difficult thing to do.

Hard work is what you had from the Germans, in there zonal system you have to look after your bit of the grass and look after your team mates who is pushing on or defending back and has vacated his bit of the pitch. That is hard work. That is the hard work that allowed them to capitalise on their opportunities.

So luck yes, its a big deal, but its only half the story, thankfully most of the Hobbits will not be getting another chance.

David said...

Nothing makes soccer come alive like comparisons to cricket.

Brit said...

Thanks Sean, and yes to that.

David - as a Boston Red Sox man you should have more than an inkling of what it's like to be an English football supporter.

Gaw said...

I think the 'English players are thick' thesis has legs. I see Chris Dillow as well as the Yard are on to it.

But I do agree that the margin between success and failure is small and mysterious (between big success and ignominious failure too).

Personally (and, yes, mostly likely, wrongly) I think Wales' recent grand slams come down to (a) Rugby League no longer nicking players (b) Gavin Henson being fit and on form and (c) a good initial result boosting confidence. I know this isn't very relevant but I felt I had to point it out.

Brit said...

It's very relevant, Gaw. Back in the early noughties, how many articles were written analysing the reasons that Wales would never be any good ever again?

Our vain opinions, like vuvuzelas parping into the void. This is why sportsmen have so many superstitions.

The Old Batsman said...

Brit, you'd have to say that turning English cricket around was like turning an ocean liner around. It took the captaincies of Hussain and Vaughan and the coaching of Fletch and Flower. Same with Australia, Border and then Taylor. Plus a generational change in players unconditioned to defeat. Then luck and circumstance, as you say. And a load of money. But apart from all of that, it's easy. And of course you can draw no comparison because in cricket, international play has primacy. Imagine the FA ringing Fergie: 'Er alright Alex, we've decided to rest Wazza for the last two month of the season. Not a problem for you, is it...'

Hey Skipper said...

... football is a game in which the worse team often wins, through luck, fight and critical moments of inspiration or individual error.

And scoring the first goal.