World Cup Diary by Dan Smith
Every 4 years English fans promise ourselves we won’t get carried away and that this time we will have a bit of perspective. However we just love our football so much that we can’t help ourselves. So after a last minute goal against a very poor Tunisia and a great first half against an even poorer Panama, it’s like we have tried to convince ourselves that something’s in the air; Major names not qualifying for Russia, big names yet to get going, favourites out in the group stages.
It’s led many pundits to call this one of the most open World Cups of all time, where we are yet to see an outstanding unit. Of course there are numerous examples of tournaments being won by not always the best team. Luck of the draw can see you reach a final with a generous route. That’s what inspired great debate this week regarding the final fixture of group G.
The majority felt that finishing second would make the semi finals a more realistic target. Despite saying otherwise, clearly both managers agreed, with Harry Kane not coming off the bench even when a goal was needed.
So, Colombia, then Sweden or Switzerland are the only thing that stand in our way from reaching the last 4, on paper never a better chance of matching our best finals since 1990. Then though, you break it down and you realise how crazy it is for England to be worrying about the Quarter-Final and not prioritising the last 16.
Take away the passion for the game in the UK, the facts speak for themselves. We have won 2 knockout games in 28 years (3 if I include the Euros). We mentally fell apart when Iceland put on a bit of pressure.
When you have gone nearly 3 decades having got to one semi final, you can’t keep citing bad luck. You can’t ignore it just because we were the ones who gave the universe this beautiful game. If we heard Sweden or Croatia, etc already talking about ‘easy paths’ we call them arrogant. Yet that’s what our peers think of us. We are not a threat.
We shouldn’t even be thinking about a fifth game. We should be worried about facing Colombia, technically a better team then us who’s recent record is superior to ours. 4 years ago they easily knocked out Uruguay, the side who put us to the sword. While they were knocked out on pens by Brazil we couldn’t get 3 points against the Giants of Costa Rica.
It’s been that tragic for years now and the game knows it. Colombia know it! They know that their opponents on Tuesday will have to show up with the mental strength we havn’t shown since Euro 96/France 98. Yet 2 wins against minnows and we are running before we can walk. It is so long since we were in a major quarter final and we were just a Japan away from doing it. That would have done, pride would have been put back into watching the team, expectation met, something to build on for a couple of years time.
Roberto Martinez showed us his hand. He essentially said ‘play your strongest 11 and only thing that stands in your way from a successful month is Japan.’ Instead we gambled, yet again failing to beat the first decent team we encountered.
If Southgate beats Colombia he’s a genius but what if he doesn’t? You can’t have it both ways.
If he beats Colombia you can’t say he’s manipulated the situation well but let him off if it backfires. It would be different if he finished runner up having tried, but instead he prepared us for a loss due to gaining some tactical advantage. What happens to trying to win every game?
If we lose to the South Americans a day after Belgium have comfortably seen off Japan, then playing for a loss is not morally correct, not what the World Cup was designed for, a waste of an event we wait 4 years for – and would be a sackable offence?