Ever since the World Cup draw was made back in December, all eyes in the United States have been on the first game in Group C. The match against England is widely anticipated in America, but here it’s just another group game. There’s not the same level of excitement, sure England fans are looking forward to it, but because it’s the first game, not because we’re playing the United States.
Everything in England is geared to the tournament finally getting underway. There is no real sense of trepidation or concern for the game against the USA. Don’t mistake that lack of fear as arrogance, it’s simply that there is no real rivalry for England fans to gauge their feelings towards the USA on a football basis. We don’t view the first opponents in that way, we don’t have any footballing history against America.
The view over here is that we’ve been drawn in the easier side of the draw and our group could have been a lot worse. Looking back, it’s probably viewed as the easiest group we’ve had since 1986. Yet that should serve as a stark remainder of what can happen if you take your eye off the ball. A group containing Portugal, Morocco and Poland was viewed as a matter of course for qualification and it simply seemed a case of who would finish second behind England. How wrong those feelings were.
England were drab and lifeless in the first game against Portugal and deservedly lost one nil. England have played Portugal several times since then and are still awaiting another opportunity to end a run that now stretches to 44 years since the last competitive victory against our oldest allies. The next match saw England once again fail to produce and were in danger of imploding, Bryan Robson injured and out of the tournament, Ray Wilkins sent off and 0-0 draw against Morocco left qualification in the balance.
Everything was on the last game, against Poland but the team had been altered due to the loss of Wilkins and Robson and the failings of Mark Hateley up front. The rest as they say is history, with Gary Lineker’s hat trick catapulted England through. It’s certainly not a situation that anyone in the UK sees repeating itself this time in South Africa. Confidence is high amongst the fans, but the ridiculous tub thumbing bravado of the Eriksson years has settled away to something more reflective, more assured, more believable.
The usual four year worrying about key players has also subsided, concerns remain against several members of the squad, through form, injury and personal worries that dogged certain members this year. Yet for all that, most England fans are already plotting England’s opponents in the Second Round. Will it be our old nemesis, Germany, or the hard working Australians or as some experts predict, the dark horses of Ghana. Any of those permutations is already being discussed and dissected.
That’s not to say they’re right in thinking that, but that’s football fans the world over, daring to dream. The players will be under no doubts or allow dreams to cloud the thinking. Capello will have them facing each game and each opponent one at a time. There will be no excuses for getting ahead of themselves. As a USA fan, you may be thinking this is all rather conceited and arrogant. I assure you, it isn’t. No-one is expecting another 1950 and we all know enough about the US team, the key players and the tactics, that surprises like that warm Brazilian day on June 29th won’t happen again.
The defeat is now classed as so long ago by the media, that it doesn’t allow the option to stir up the primal need for revenge that say matches against Argentina, France, Germany, Scotland and Portugal brings. Even allowing for the 2-0 defeat in Boston back in 1993 fails to raise the hackles of English fans. That period of failure is written off as the “Graham Taylor era” and no-one likes opening that particular box back up. Wedged between the semi finals of 1990 and 1996, it’s glossed over at any given opportunity. It’s not that England fans don’t care or feel the result is a forgone conclusion, they just expect the team to win.
Some parts of the media will try and stir it up, get some anti-American feeling going, but in general, it’s not there to stir and I feel it’s vice versa. I couldn’t have met a friendlier bunch of people when I was in the States, I really like the place and the people. It suited me. Honestly, I could think of nothing better than living in either Florida or California, I’d love to live the States. I’d bite your arm off to live there, I really would. Especially now that football is growing as a sport.
What has surprised me are some attempts at belittling England, such as the laughable comments that England had an easy group to get through. Despite the excuses being made for Croatia having two players missing, which I think certainly overplays the amount of ability and influence Eduardo has on the national side, beating them 4-1 away and 5-1 at home is not something to write off so easily. Croatia were on a 14 year unbeaten home run. 14 years, now come on surely that deserves a little credit? No, well disputing that as two excellent results is pointless.
Just because we’re not banging on about the game doesn’t mean we think less of the USA as a footballing nation, or that we don’t rate the team, the talent and tenacity are clearly there. It doesn’t mean we don’t view the USA as a threat, we do. It’s just that as with Algeria and Slovakia, the team are expected to win. Nothing more, nothing less. Me, I’m expecting it to be the toughest game of the group stage and I do honestly hope the USA get through to the second round too. It’ll be tough, but it’s certainly an easier group than you got saddled with last time.
No-one is taken the USA lightly, don’t judge us on our media and some of the chatter that descends through the Internet, like a room full of monkeys tweeting. Talk to us, ask us what we think, don’t make outlandish sweeping statements about how crap England are just to get a reaction, that’s just juvenile. We see enough football to know when someone’s talented.
We were all impressed at Landon Donovan finally having a productive spell in European football, we know what Clint Dempsey offers the team. We know Freddy Adu has dropped off the edge of the world by getting too big for his boots. We’ve seen some of the best players the USA has produced week in, week out in all our leagues. Don’t mistake our silence or reticence for arrogance.It just means we quite like you and surely that’s a good thing isn’t it??
Leave me your comments below, or you can find me on twitter.com/paulbestall where I can talk football all day.