The football gods have a dark, ironic sense of humor. The British football media and fans have complained endlessly about Spain’s tiki taka style. Therefore, those same complainers were forced to watch an England team that could not keep possession, could not pass, and could not score. And then they lost in that most English of ways. Penalty kicks. Again.
The first twenty minutes of this match were surprisingly entertaining; the next hundred were unbearable. Italy were woeful; England were worse. Neither team could score, and all attempts (particularly those from England) were almost a parody. But beyond the shooting, at least Italy looked like a football team–albeit a mediocre one. England’s players are supposed to be elite; instead they looked like a group of toddlers who had never actually seen a ball before. The passing in particular was horrendous.
Based on all available evidence, one must conclude that the football gods hate England. Or maybe not hate exactly. More like they take pleasure in the suffering of England. The more ironic the punishment, the better. This is the only conclusion I can draw from the six years I have been watching the sport. At the 2006 World Cup, England were ignominiously dumped out by Portugal and a winking Cristiano Ronaldo, then one of the rising stars of the Premier League, who got Manchester United teammate Wayne Rooney red carded for stamping on another Portuguese player. England didn’t even make the 2008 Euro, and had to hear the rest of the world extol the 2008 Euro as the best ever. In 2010, England finished second in their group to the United States, were booed of the field by their fans after a lackluster draw against Algeria, and then lost 4-1 against hated enemy Germany after a legitimate England goal was disallowed (calling to mind the famously controversial English goal from the 1966 final against West Germany). The entire Fabio Capello era was a just a big joke at England’s expense, ending in his abrupt resignation just before the Euro. And in the years before I watched there was the 1-0 loss to the US in 1950, the dog that urinated on Jimmy Greaves in 1962, the World Cups England did not qualify for in 1974, 1978, and 1994, the other Euros England failed to qualify for in 1964, 1972, 1976, and 1984, all the losses to German opposition (especially those in penalties) who barely think of England as a rival, the 1998 loss on penalties to England’s other hated enemy Argentina (after a red card for a petulant David Beckham), all penalty kick losses (5 out of 6), and, of course, the Hand of Diego.
The American football fan must at some point come to terms with England. Given the closeness of the UK and US politically, culturally, and linguistically, it is unsurprising that most Americans fans generally see England as something of a big brother to be emulated. I tend to see them as the drama queen neighbor with whom I am constantly forced to interact and whom I resent for it. But there is really no other frame of reference for most monolingual Americans because outside of the UK there is very little in the way of football coverage in English (save for American coverage which varies dramatically in quality). Additionally, the English Premier League is the richest and glitziest league in the world and the one with the best marketing arm, which means everyone around the world watches it.
Look at any American media outlet that has a section about soccer/football. If there is a writer from another country, the chances are that said writer is English (even if he or she writes about another country that is not England). Because of the language barrier, Americans, when they read coverage in the foreign press, are more likely to read the British newspapers. Likewise, American blogs and newspapers are more likely to follow the lead of British media. ESPN learned that for international tournaments, it is a good idea to have at least one football announcer with an English accent. It may seem chauvinistic and insulting, but this comes following the failures of many different American announcers, one of whom had never watched a game of football in his life prior to calling a World Cup. (As I side note, I was really bothered by the cheerleading and excuse making coming from Ian Darke and Steve McManaman in the booth. It was not until the absolute end that either would admit that England were awful. It’s one thing to cheer on the US team for an American audience, but it another to cheer on the English team for an American audience.)
As a result we in America are inundated with the opinions of the British. Trust me when I say it is claustrophobic, especially for me who sees the English ideal as the enemy of football.
As I mentioned yesterday, I am really tired of hearing the English media drone on and on about how boring Spain are. Tiki taka is the opposite of the English ideal which holds that technique is suspect, possession is cheating, and short passes are beneath contempt.
So the gods of football delivered their latest ironic punishment to England. England’s players displayed no technique whatsoever, their passes went wrong more often than right, and Italy routinely stripped them of possession. (And to rub it in just a little bit more, England took the lead in the penalty shootout only to blow it.) Sure the result was technically a 0-0 draw, but England were thoroughly outclassed and shown up as utterly awful. One cannot even blame Roy Hodgson given how little time he had to work with the team.
Perhaps it is time to rethink the bias against tiki taka, no?
Italy meanwhile have just come off an emotionally and physically draining match that showed up their weaknesses and pushed them to the physical limits. Germany, their opponents in the next round, will have had 48 hours longer to rest and were on cruise control against Greece. Germany also have a far more talented squad. The odds are incredibly stacked against Italy.
Expect an Italian victory. Germany never beat Italy.