Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Brazil? Nuts!

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There may have been a few hangovers across the shires of England this morning, but it would be tragic if last night's FIFA World Cup 2014-qualifying win by the national side led to anyone losing their job.

Because any England fan who thought the 2-0 victory over Poland was worthy of the sort of drinking sesh that ends with a "uh...(cough)...sorry, Boss, but I won't be coming in today. Dicky stomach. Something I ate..." phone call has probably pissed away their career prospects. Literally. No sane employer would respect such poor judgement.

Yes, Stevie G carved out a pleasing individual goal, and Rooney brought a welcome return to the sort of ruthlessness his game at Old Trafford has been missing, but really - has this been a campaign to rattle the teeth of the Dutch, the Spanish, the Germans, the Italians, the Argentinians, of course the Brazilians, or even the Belgians heading for the Copacabana in strength?

So, yes. Samba time. Roo In Rio (though not Rio in Rio, ha ha). Prepare for a barrage of poor quality Brazilian-themed puns and laboured cultural references between now and kick-off next June. You will, I promise, hear jokes about bikini line waxes more than once.

Let's enjoy the build up, but not get carried away. Face facts: last night's game was a distinctly average affair, played by two distinctly average teams. England look a weaker footballing side than at any time in living memory.

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If the team Roy Hodgson has been forced to deploy in this final round of qualifiers is anything like that which he will take to Brazil next June, Glenn Hoddle's recent clairvoyance won't be in doubt.

This was a team which, in a group comprising Ukraine, Poland, Montenegro, Moldova and San Marino, was supposed to qualify comfortably. And yet even in last night's must-win fixture, it was impossible to suppress the nerves as the Dannys Welbeck and Sturridge continued to misfire, Joe Hart looked ever more a capable goalkeeper lacking confidence (or an incapable goalkeeper covering up his game with a veneer of confidence), and a defensive quarter appeared to be in the throes of suffering the classic 'three-quarters' problem - there's always one of them you've got a question mark over.

The final Group H table flatters to deceive, too. England may have ended their ten-match qualifying run unbeaten - which deserves some credit, obviously - but the won six, drawn four, lost none stats reveal a less then convincing sequence. Especially when considering the win margins of the other teams already booking their business class seats for next summer.

Clearly, no one should be in a rush to counter FA Chairman Greg Dyke's low expectations for England's fortunes next summer ("I don't think anyone realistically thinks we are going to win the World Cup in Brazil."), and Gary Lineker's doubts that there could be a quick fix.

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Hodgson has his doubters, but the FA could appoint Harry Potter and a nuclear-powered magic wand, and still there would be mass chin-scratching as to whether he had the right credentials to run the national team.

At risk of having worms scurrying in every direction from the can in which they've been happy to reside up until this point, expectations for the fortunes of the England national football team - at next year's World Cup and every subsequent competition - must be conditioned by the reality that England as a footballing nation is distinctly average.

Moreover, we're not going to get much better, all the time English players (or "qualifying" English players...) are unable to develop the skills and talent to make them not only break into our so-called elite teams, but also make England a worthy competitor on the world stage. And that's the Achilles Heel. You can go on about 30, 40, 50 years of hurt, but we're not going to see an Englishman - or a Belgian with Albanian, Kosovan, Serbian and Turkish eligability - lifting the Jules Rimet in an England shirt until the nation's footballing competitiveness is improved.

It's not just about a lack of opportunities for English players at the top English club, either. If domestic football was a barrier to national excellence, the Dutch wouldn't be the runaway European favourites they are. Ditto Belgium. To ape Father Ted, "something needs to be done about this sort of thing".

I'm looking forward to Brazil 2014 like any other right-minded football fan should be. It's in Brazil, for a start, which should make it a party like no other (and I'm not even going to grace the argument about stadium construction) and it will therefore be a treat for all watch it on television as much as those who'll be out there in person. But, unusually, considering he's a Manchester United fan and he put Roland Rat on TV, I'm with Greg Dyke on this: England in 2014? That would just be a load of Brazil nuts.

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