Upstart Takes on the World (Cup): Day 18

28 June 2010

Written by: Evan Harding

Another day, another clichéd former power bites the even-more-clichéd dust. By now we’re all aware of the travesty that befell England – or at least it would have been had they not proceeded to give up four legitimate goals to Germany due to an abysmal defence.

This was a team that, as we are so often reminded, won in 1966. This is only 16 years after Uruguay’s most recent triumph and yet the Old Country is often touted as contenders, while the Uruguayans are dismissed. (Perhaps the fact that they sometimes don’t qualify is part of the reason, but let’s not let facts get in the way of a good point.)

Were their expectations too high? Perhaps not the players, who must believe they can win; but could it be that observers, both in and out of the media, have fallen into the trap of believing the Premier League hype? The oft-quoted stat goes that only 38% of Premier League players are English. Yet the Premier League supplied more World Cup players than any domestic league, including all 23 of the English squad. Conclusions that could be drawn from this include:

a)      English players don’t get enough experience of other kinds of football. Supported by Italy’s 100%-Serie A squad which also disappointed, but disproven by Italy’s 100%-Serie A squad from 2006, not to mention the 100%-Bundesliga squad that swept England aside 4-1.

b)      English players don’t get enough experience of top-flight football due to the Premier League players taking their places. Perhaps that may explain how a Championship defender mightn’t be able to step up, but surely the reverse is true for the first-team regulars in the Premier League, of which the English squad is mainly comprised.

c)       English players just aren’t good enough. Perhaps there would be a higher percentage of Premier League players being English if the players came through the system.  Perhaps there would be more English players abroad if they didn’t consistently disappoint away from their own shores.

Yep, let’s go with c) shall we? As for why, well there is a more detailed discussion in there but it’s best left for another day (but here is a couple of articles to get you started, from the Telegraph and from Sporting Life). Without a gameplan fit to stop the German juggernaut, they were always going to struggle. But then hindsight is 20-20, as a number of officials found just before half-time.

Argentina was also the beneficiary of a referee mistake, yet also was far too good for Mexico in progressing to face Germany. The debate over whether video technology should be used has sparked up again. Will it slow down the game? No more than players faking injuries already do. It doesn’t get used at grassroots level? Neither does Hawkeye down at Mt Eliza Tennis Club. (Actually, it’s been a while since I was there…)

Apparently the Europa League trial of having an extra official behind the goal would have prevented such mistakes. Not necessarily, as was proven when Fulham played Roma – and the game was unduly delayed anyway. Of course, it would still be a positive start, but the fear of short delays is stubborn in a game where a whole match can balance on a knife edge. How can getting it wrong be better than getting it right?

MUST-SEE: The best thing about an English loss is the press. The Age did a good summary, but perhaps the best thing to do is spend a few minutes browsing the UK papers. It could even be educational, but at worst it will be entertaining on days like these, especially the red-tops.

EYEBROW-RAISER: If you watched the highlights of the England game on the FIFA website this morning you would have had no idea England were denied a goal. It has been cut. Read the match report, or the report from the Argentina-Mexico game. No mistakes are mentioned whatsoever.

REASON TO CHEER ON CHILE: They are still suffering from the earthquake earlier this year, remember. But for the heartless who need a second reason, their entertaining style, as coached by the fanatical Marcelo Bielsa, is wonderful to watch. They took the game to SPAIN, for crying out loud!

REASON TO CHEER AGAINST CHILE: They also kicked around Spain until they went down to ten men, apparently discovering that’s not the way to play. Perhaps you’re tired of ‘chilli’ puns in newspapers. Maybe you just thought Marcelo Ríos was an objectionable individual. Or maybe, just maybe, you are planning on watching the game with Brazilians.

TONIGHT: Opening up proceedings is Slovakia’s attempt to pull off another upset against the Netherlands. They have to like their chances, with the Dutch winning just one knockout tie at a World Cup or European Championships since 2000. Coach Vladimir Weiss called the win over Italy ‘the second best day of my life’ after the birth of his son, also called Vladimir. Junior isn’t expecting to start in tonight’s match after being dropped for the Italy win, but with Zdeno Strba suspended he may yet be recalled. The Netherlands won all three group matches without ever really impressing. So they can improve. But with a reputation for imploding, can they finally progress? That would be a yes. Van Persie, Kuyt, Van der Vaart, Sneijder and the still-not-totally-fit Robben are just too good: Netherlands 3-0 Slovakia. Then comes Brazil and Chile, definitely the match of the night. This pits the defensively-solid Brazilians against a team who should know them well in Chile. They were comprehensively beaten 3-0 by the Brazilians at home in qualifying, before competing much better in Rio despite a 4-2 loss. With more game-time together the Chileans have doubtlessly improved, but three suspensions will hurt, particularly centre-backs Gary Medel and Waldo Ponce. For Brazil, Kaká returns after his ridiculous red card against Côte d’Ivoire, and again it will be Luís Fabiano leading the line with Robinho on the left and Elano and the overlapping Maicon on the right. A couple of errors in the group stage is a worrying sign, but they look too solid to give up enough to lose: Brazil 3-1 Chile.

Evan Harding is co-producer of The Contenders Daily Bite, a daily World Cup short which can be seen on Tribal Football. A Master of Global Communication student at La Trobe University, he is an upstart editor armed with a month’s supply of coffee and a Spanish chance to still make back the money lost on an ill-conceived bet. Previous World Cup columns can be found here.