Having watched virtually every England game for over 40 years now its odd how little changes. We rarely put on a virtuoso display and we usually come away feeling as though we really should play better. Even when we do play well, many fans will be quick to point out that the opposition was weak. It’s almost never a satisfying experience.
In recent years we have become reluctant to over-praise because we’ve seen the over-lauded players fail to deliver so many times in the past. We have finally woke up and realized that England is a second tier international side. Not bad but not stellar. The days of ‘we should be beating sides like that’ – a mantra often uttered in the past – has all but gone, swept away by repeatedly poor performances.
It was often a criticism thrown at England fans and English media that we persistently over-rated our players – thinking we had a good chance of winning a World Cup or European Championship when it was patently obvious to the objective observer we lacked the quality to do so.
Those days have, outside of a few tabloid circles, gone. England fans are less arrogant than ever, less believing than ever. We want to believe. We really do. But we have no evidence and little history to justify it.
We were happy to qualify in good style, even though we rarely seem to be able to keep a clean sheet. These days just getting through is fine. We’d like more but don’t expect it.
Oddly enough, the old-style dissatisfaction with how the team plays has been replaced by a simple ‘just glad we won’ mentality. Twenty years ago a 3-1 defeat against Egypt after falling behind and playing like a drain for 45 minutes would have attracted tidal wave of criticism and disgust from press and fans. Not any more. All but the most casual observers know that sides like Egypt possess quality and won’t just roll over because they are up against the motherland of football. And we know we don’t have much strength in depth.
So while we get still get frustrated when things don’t go well – its no longer the national disgrace it used to be. Very few fans would dare suggest that England will win the World Cup. We could but it seems unlikely. We need to get a lot of luck and play out of our skins against the best sides. It’s possible, of course, but you wouldn’t put your mortgage on it.
After last nights win courtesy of one terrible bit of goalkeeping and an offside goal, I was just pleased to have the victory. It was a relief. We were not that great. Walcott especially played like a naive school boy. The defence is easily made to look ragged, the midfield often slow and lacking in creativity for long periods of time. Defoe,as usual, looked lightweight at international level.
I could go on but the point is we all know now that England are not the great footballing power that for decades too many kidded themselves we were and actually, that’s a relief. The over-bearing expectation before every tournament has only harmed England’s chances; put pressure on them to perform to a level that they couldn’t often achieve. It would be ironic if this low level of expectation led to a successful campaign. Ironic, but, if last nights performance is anything to go by, still unlikely.