For anyone and everyone that follows football, the return of Premier League football this weekend will be a welcome one.
There’s something about international breaks that stop the blood from flowing and create an air of inevitability for England. Cue a 1-1 draw with Ukraine on Tuesday night in front of a frustrated, half-empty Wembley stadium. “Same old England” were the words echoed around all four corners of the ground after another less than convincing performance.
You would think that the sell-out crowds at the Olympic stadium over the last month would have inspired people to go and support their national football team and would have gone some way towards reigniting that sense of hope that maybe, just maybe, this might be the start of things to come for a World Cup-winning England…. I’m afraid we’re not feeling very confident.
While there is undoubtedly an emergence of young talent coming through the ranks, with the likes of Oxlade -Chamberlain, Welbeck and Cleverley all making names for themselves, we are all too often witnessing players who promised so much, delivering, in reality, very little in an England shirt….Wright Phillips, Lennon and Walcott to name just a few.
This has arguably been the greatest summer of sport for Britain. London 2012 unearthed some of the finest Olympic and Paralympic athletes who epitomised the ‘Great British’ spirit, courage and determination. Add to this Andy Murray’s heroics at Flushing Meadows to end the elusive wait for a men’s singles Grand Slam champion for 76 years, and it is difficult to deny that 2012 has, so far, been the year of UK sport. But the nation was brought crashing back down to earth on Tuesday night when it was reminded just how frustrating it can be to watch the three lions in action.
Whatever happens in Group H you would expect England to qualify for the World Cup in Rio in two years’ time. England should be competing at major international tournaments, so to even debate whether they will or not seems wasteful. Qualification should be a relatively straightforward task. But with that said, it is difficult to look far beyond another quarter-final, or a semi-final exit at very best in Rio 2014.
Not since Euro 96 have England reached the semi-finals of a major tournament (and if Paul Gascoigne was two inches taller we would probably have gone on to win it). Of course, everyone remembers the heartache of 98, losing to Argentina on penalties. Yet most of us seem to forget that England should have been out of sight in that game, had it had a full complement of players on the pitch for the entire 120 minutes…..(mentioning no names, Mr Beckham). And then there was that famous rush of blood from Phil Neville, conceding a penalty in the dying seconds against Romania to send us packing from the group stages at Euro 2000. At the 2002 World Cup, there was genuine hope that Sven’s men could finally go all the way but they came up against champions Brazil and were beaten by the cross come shot from Ronaldinho. Sigh. ‘Oh, what could have been’ we hear you say…
Defeats to Portugal in 2004 and 2006 on penalties will be remembered for the involvement of one player, Wayne Rooney. The injury in 2004 probably cost us a place in the semi-finals; the curse of the metatarsal striking again. And the reason for what happened two years later? Only Rooney will know. Another error, this time in the form of Rooney stamping on Portugal defender Ricardo Carvalho, resulting in a sending off and suddenly England were in the familiar position of being sent packing, just as our penalty voodoo continued. In 2008 we didn’t even qualify, lest we be reminded, is that rain we hear?
In 2010 we were outplayed and outclassed by Germany, despite a Lampard shot clearly crossing the line (and yes we are still waiting for goal-line technology Fifa…..)
You can see the pattern that’s forming here. In football, you make your own luck and there is no denying that England has had its fair share of bad luck in recent times. But the likes of France, Italy, Holland and Spain – serial underachievers in the past – have all delivered in the past and won the silverware that their talents deserve. England, meanwhile, have not even come close.
The third best team in the world according to Fifa. Keep on dreaming, we say. Back to the Premier League we go, the best league in the world…
Words by Dan Apostolos