Lest we forget, yeah?
Emerging from the hinterland of no expectations, Roy’s England squad appear somehow different from what we’d all come to expect. Unbeaten? Check. Likeable? Apart from John Terry (Ashley we’ll let you off because you are brilliant) - check. Unbeaten and likeable after two games eh? It’s like Euro ’96 all over again isn’t it? Although it’s not, really, is it. Now before you knock us here at Spongers HQ for being Peter Pessimists or Kenneth Killjoys, please let us try and explain why we are more from the Paul Pragmatist school of thought.
Sixteen years ago, the country really did expect. Home advantage dovetailed with the best crop of players since Italia ’90 to propel England to a semi-final and a defeat only a super villain of Andreas Moller’s stature could mastermind. But then there has been scant else to celebrate (the emergence of Michael Owen (’98), and Wayne Rooney (’04); the 1-0 win over Argentina (’02) aside) in major tournaments ever since. That the penny had finally dropped this time around was a good thing. A very important thing, actually.
Unwilling to come good on the root and branch promise of better things (for simply paying Fabio Capello £4m a year is NOT a wide-ranging overhaul of English football – I’m looking at YOU Football Association), the best option this summer was rearranging all the country’s onions in two banks of four (with a big onion and a little onion up top) in a very organised basket. And Roy Hodgson has always been very keen on keeping his baskets pristine.
If we operate under the assumption that the ball is for pesky, cheating foreigners, for the time being at least, and that this is not necessarily a bad thing (until we have a Clairefontaine, La Masia, or, dammit, A NEW LILLESHALL), then England stand a good chance of progressing to the knockouts this summer and God knows where thereafter.
But in typical English fashion, no expectations have suddenly become really massive shiny appley sort-of expectations in little over a week. It’s as ludicrous as it is inevitable. (Think the BBC’s panel last night getting hopelessly carried away – something I have no problem with but let’s just, you know, CHILL THE FUCK OUT – going so far as to suggest Spain now “aren’t that good” because they can ‘only’ muster a 1-0 win against the Croatians, which is, frankly, Chiles-esque).
And when Alan Pardew, during the analysis of Spain v Croatia talks of the Croatians being “technical”, perhaps it would be better to assume that everyone else is technical and that sides like England and Ireland are “not technical”. That might help in our understanding of the different ways the game can be played; what Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez and David Silva can do = highly technical. What Scott Parker and James Milner do = not so.
Let me clear up that I am not having a pop here. I am stating a fact. Going through the roof is just as likely to make the thing come crashing down on your head again when Wayne Rooney gets sent off and England limply exit at around 9.45 tonight. Let’s, for the time being, just content ourselves with ‘likeable’. That in itself is a change for the better.