Magazine article The Spectator

No One outside England Thinks We've Got a Prayer

Magazine article The Spectator

No One outside England Thinks We've Got a Prayer

Article excerpt

Rod Liddle wouldn't risk more than a tenner on the team getting beyond the group stage in the football World Cup. The truth is, we usually perform more or less exactly as well as might be expected given the size of the country

Nobody outside of this country thinks that England stands a cat's chance in hell of winning the association football World Cup, which is due to kick off in South Africa very shortly - if all the teams are not abducted upon arrival and shot. Almost to a man the leading foreign players and pundits predict a final between Brazil and Spain, and on the rare occasions there is a demurral from this assessment it is to mention the name of Argentina, squired by its porky coke-headed maniac of a boss, Diego Maradona, or somewhat less frequently, Holland (who always play lovely football and never win anything). England?

Nope, not a chance. This isn't because they hate us, the foreigners (although they probably do) - it simply hasn't occurred to them that we might win the thing. They see a team with only one proven international class forward, the perpetually splenetic potato-headed kidult Wayne Rooney, an ageing and fragile back four which recourses habitually to violence when beaten for pace and, behind them, an embryonic catastrophe waiting to happen. It is a very long time since England had a goalkeeper on whom they could depend.

Four years ago, even eight years ago, it was very different; it was said we had a 'golden generation' of players - Gerrard, Rooney (briefly), Owen, Beckham - and the opposition was substantially weaker.

But that golden generation failed to deliver anything more than a quarter-final berth, twice. Reaching the quarter-final is actually no mean feat and when English people bemoan the underachievement of the national team they should look a little more closely at the statistics: we actually punch precisely at our weight, given our size of population and the number of people in England who play football regularly. We are almost always in the top 15 of teams in the world and usually somewhere towards the lower reaches of the top ten - that's about right. We cannot, over the long term, hope to emulate the Germans or the Brazilians with their much larger population base and greater proportion of people who play football. Nor in the still longer term will we be able to compete with, say, China or the USA or Russia or some of the developing African countries, for the same reason. Every so often a country will come along which will punch above its weight for a limited time:

right now that country is Spain. But they will submerge soon enough, much as France has submerged (with much sulking and trauma:

truth is, they shouldn't be at this World Cup at all).

Anyway, the point is that England are slightly less likely to win the World Cup than they were in 2006 or 2002, unless luck plays a very substantial part. You might hope for a semi-final appearance, but not stake your life savings on such an outcome. I am not sure that I would stake much more than a tenner on England emerging from the group phase. England's comparative ease in qualifying for this tournament, against serially overrated teams such as Croatia, hid a multitude of deficiencies. …

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