It’s been a strange World Cup as an England supporter. Seven months of preparation but knocked out in six days and our boys were back home in their gated mansions in time to watch the final group matches the same as us. Even to see themselves in TV ads grinning, winking, doing ball tricks and celebrating. All very inappropriate, like Suarez being the new face of Colgate.
Was it really just a fortnight ago that the plane touched down in Rio carrying our finest 23 and a whole host of dieticians, doctors, coaches, press officers, PR, HR and even a team shrink whose job it was to release their inner chimp. Or suppress it. Or something. Just about the only thing the plane wasn’t carrying was the weight of a nation’s expectations. World Cup fever wasn't a lot lower the last time we failed to qualify, which was just as well really.
Everyone said what a tough draw we had, but this wasn’t the Italy of old. Their top player is 35, chugs around in neutral gear and looks like a hairdresser. Meanwhile Uruguay’s main talent had an untested dodgy knee. Effectively our task was to do two things:
1. Stop Pirlo
2. Stop Suarez
Having failed to achieve the first objective, everything rested on dealing with the threat of the Hannibal Lecter of the Panini sticker album. Was Suarez fully recovered? Ace pundit Robbie Savage knew how to find out. “If I was playing I would SMASH Suarez in the first 5 minutes.… fairly, of course”. Of course. Maybe that was the problem – England were too nice. Fresh from headbutting the dressing room wall, Terry Butcher would have sorted him out. Or needed another bandage.
The other problem was we lacked a top class finisher. Sturridge might be one day, Rooney isn’t. His one goal was a tap in. Even the gerbil who donated its fur for his new thatch would have scored that. The group was there for the taking if we had a choice of strikers like the previous generation – Shearer, Owen, Sheringham, Wright, Fowler. Even Andy Cole. Ok maybe not Cole.
But at least unlike the two most recent World Cups, England spared us being eliminated on penalties or thrashed, and at times played a little bit of football. Not much to ask perhaps, but better than South Africa when we stunk the place out so badly, FIFA had to open the windows. And there was no scapegoat this time. You couldn’t pick on old Roy, he did his best, and it almost seems cruel to point out that Gerrard has lately given more assists to the opposition than his team mates.