Monday, 25 June 2012

Day Seventeen

England 0 Italy 0

Pens 2 - 4

It was a good run, but it had to come to an end eventually. Let's be honest, we all knew it had gone on longer than anyone expected already. And at least we got to see a traditional tournament favourite.

Yes, there had to be a 0-0. Twenty seven games without one, but then England had a knockout game and that was that.

And the defeat? I find I can't be bothered to write much about that performance, so here's something I wrote about England v Portugal 2006 instead.

It’s just vicious really. Like free range calves, they get to run around the field for a few weeks, but then out come the chainsaws. Discounting the third place playoff, a poor apology for a wooden spoon game which is now beyond our wildest dreams, all the last fifteen games exist entirely for the purpose of inflicting the dreary ennui of defeat on one nation after another.

Children cry themselves to sleep, grown men hide under blankets all day, flags droop sadly on the bonnets of cars. Everywhere around the world. Including qualification, every country in the entire world except one goes through this every four years, every two years if you count the continental cups.

At least England - finally - managed to give us some halfway decent football. With their backs to the wall, they leapt like gazelles and fought like Douglas Bader, as opposed to the other way round like they normally do.

If Ronaldo had deliberately wound Rooney up he may have ended up regretting it, because it just united the team and brought all the arguments about England’s formation to an end. Crouch, stuck with the lone striker role by force of circumstance, played it brilliantly, holding the ball up on his own and tempting the Portuguese defenders into giving away free kicks. He linked up well with Lennon, who was also on by necessity, replacing the injured Beckham. How surprising that England’s finest football should have been played without Beckham, Rooney or Owen. How surprising, and how memorable.

I’m not even going to talk about the penalties, except to point out that Portugal missed two themselves, so the opportunity was there, dammit.

So the Portuguese have a semifinal with France. Good luck, you both have a 25% chance of not ending up feeling like we do.

So that was then. What's changed?

First, there's no third place playoff in the Euros for us not to get into. Second, all that stuff about finally getting some decent football hardly applies. Third, Pirlo didn't have to wind our players up like Ronaldo did, he was just effortlessly better.

But most importantly, there's no great sense of upset. People only really sulk if they have genuine hope in the first place. When the last penalty went in there was almost a sense that it was for the best, that to have beaten Italy on penalties after being comprehensively played off the park would have been so embarrassing, it was actually better to slink off now before Germany got to administer the retribution the rest of Europe was craving.

Steven Gerrard, interviewed afterwards, seemed to feel that there was some kind of unfairness in England being out again on penalties, that they'd been robbed of their just desserts by a capricious fate. It's quite rare to see someone so comprehensively misjudge the national mood. Which is not so much don't come home too soon as come home now, we can't stand it any more,  even the Greeks are laughing at us and we don't know where to look.

So that's the end of England's tournament, and also the complete rout of Groups A and D, but there's still plenty to look forward to. Three more games, and tasty affairs they look as well. Germany v Italy, Pirlo's midfield genius v Gomez and Klose up front. Spain v Portugal, with Ronaldo's solipsistic genius against the ultimate collective. And Germany v Spain in the final. There, I said it. Actually, I said it at the beginning of the tournament. Predicting a final correctly - now that would be a step up from previous blogs.


  1. I thought for the first half of the first half that England were assertive and playful...they looked like a team who enjoyed it. Apart from Rooney. He just looked lumpen.

  2. If he'd just connected with that overhead kick at the end of normal time a tenth of a second later I'd have written a very different piece. But yes, a good start, before Pirlo took over.