Watching England fall to a young German team last night brought back memories of the time when I used to religiously follow the travails of Team India. There are many similarities between the English football team and the Indian cricket team. The popularity they enjoy across the globe, the money they make in comparison to other teams in their sport, the intense scrutiny that their private lives are subjected to by the media, and last but not the least, their continued inability to perform when it matters.
Just like Team India was blessed with superstars like Sachin, Azhar, Dravid, Ganguly, and more recently, Dhoni, Yuvraj, Sehwag etc, the Three Lions also have amidst them some of the most recognizable brand names such as Rooney, Lampard, Gerard, Terry to name a few. Individually, these superstars are considered the best (arguably) in their roles/positions. However, put them in a team together, and they are so abject that it is almost embarrassing to watch them play. Although there are many instances of the Indian cricket team at their abysmal best, since this post is primarily intended to comment on the English performance at the World Cup, I will end the comparisons here. Of course, the intent of the comparison was to drive home a point, and I am sure it has been.
Last night’s match against a young German side highlighted some of the long- standing frailties of the English national team. The way the famed English defense disintegrated towards the end is ample proof that, Fabio Capello and his Italian toughness be damned, the English are fragile when they are under pressure. John Terry and Mathew Upson were caught ball-watching too many times, and as a result, the left-back and the central midfield were drawn out of position leaving gaping holes on the left for a marauding Mueller to first drive the nail in the English coffin, and then hammer it shut beyond any chance for an English resurrection.
The match began well enough with both teams showing passing ability and attacking intent, before the Germans resorted to character and chose to take the Route One for their first goal. John Terry, now more popular for his sleeping exploits off the field, decided to bring some of those talents on the field as well when he decided to take a nap to let a hapless Upson try and stop the towering Klose from scoring. The result was inevitable, and Klose, with one flick of his right leg, put the ball past David James, who was caught in two minds between coming forward to collect the ball and staying back to block the shot.
The second goal from Germany was a work of art, with Podolski drilling a fine left footed shot past David James. Podolski, a Bayern cast-away currently plying his trade at lowly FC Cologne where he scored 4 goals all season, showed once again that success or failure in club football may not mean much at a World Cup. Wayne Rooney and his English colleagues will serve as bright examples in support.
The English revival through an Upson goal was just reward for their industry and when Lampard’s shot crossed the goal-line, the revival was complete. Or so everyone thought. Except the referee and his assistant who ruled that the ball had not crossed the goal line. FIFA and its weird ways are beyond explanation.
The second half began with England pushing all the way for the equalizer, and despite another Lampard effort crashing against the post, there was no respite for them. As they committed all their men forward at set-pieces, the German’s decided to teach a footballing lesson in counter-attack. The English, due to a combination of exhaustion and lack of desire, did not do enough to track back and close down the flanks when the German’s surged forward, and a 20 year old Thomas Mueller, playing on the right just behind the center forward, duly obliged with a well taken brace.
The last few minutes after the German blitzkrieg seemed like an ordeal for the Englishmen who were, understandably, in no mood for anymore fight. When the referee blew his whistle ending what turned out to be rout, Fabio Capello and his team were left to rue what could have been had the Referee not “screwed” them with the disallowed goal.
With yet another early exit from a World Cup, the “Golden Generation” of English football has probably played their last World Cup, without winning any major trophy at international level. The trial by media now begins. The likes of Wayne Rooney and Steven Gerard will find new challenges and controversies to get embroiled in, to take the attention away from this failure. A certain John Terry and his pal Ashley Cole would be getting together to discuss their new partnership, as the rest of their team-mates at Chelsea FC hold on to their wives and girlfriends even harder in these times of distress.