Hopes and Expectations

Hopes and Expectations

England flopped at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. This was the worst World Cup campaign since they failed to qualify for USA ’94, and the poorest World Cup Finals showing since their 1958 campaign where they drew all three group games and lost out to the Soviet Union in a play-off. On paper, it was clear that the Group D wasn’t the easiest to get out of, with both Italy and Uruguay looking like tough games. Costa Rica were underestimated too (in hindsight), by all three teams, and arguably overachieved. Was really as big a flop as it was made out to be though? Honeslty, what did we actually expect to happen?

Next, take a look at the USA side knocked out in the last 16. Placed in 13th, just three places behind England in the FIFA World Rankings, but their World Cup campaign has been deemed one of the greatest triumphs of the World Cup so far. Sure, their group was tough with Germany (2nd in FIFA rankings) and Portugal (4th), but how well did they really do? They scraped a (arguably undeserved) 2-1 win against a mediocre Ghana side in their opening game; drew 2-2 with Portugal; and lost against Germany. In the last 16 they gave it a good go, but came unstuck against Belgium in extra time after spending pretty much the entire 90 minutes as the side most likely to concede due to their expansive style.

I know many people will suggest that the US team showed real spirit in their performances, and I agree – they never gave up. I also know that many people will say that England lacked such spirit, but that is where I’m not so sure. The pressure heaped on to the England squad was immense, and in short they were always destined for failure. Italy and Uruguay are both very strong sides and in both games, England could have won just as easily as they lost. Even if they had qualified instead of Uruguay, would they have progressed passed a dangerous Columbia side? Probably not.

If we take a look at just how easily the tables could have turned... Starting with the Uruguay game where Suarez ruined England’s chances almost single-handedly. At 0-0, Rooney whipped a dangerous free kick inches wide of the left hand post, and then hit the crossbar from a header that looked destined to ripple the net. Had England been 1-0 up (or maybe even two), then they may have been able to get three points from the game. Obviously we’ll never know, but in principle we were a few inches away from qualifying for the last 16. Sure, people can say that there was no passion or whatever, but that is directly a result of the pressure and almost propaganda style journalism that we have become accustomed to. The game against Italy was another one where people were actually feeling pretty positive. The general consensus was that England had done pretty well, and were unlucky to lose. This ‘optimism’ was soon forgotten though when a similar scenario saw them knocked out after the defeat to Uruguay. The whole campaign was bundled together as a shambles and an embarrassment. Put simple, I think it’d have been a failure no matter what, unless we managed to reach the unrealistic heights of a semi-final finish or better – which was never likely to happen.

Today I read that Barack Obama himself has called Clint Dempsey and Tim Howard to congratulate them on inspiring the entire nation, despite them not really doing that well (winning one game out of four). This is the difference between England and many other countries when it comes to football. We expect unrealistic levels of success, whereas other countries hope for any form of success, expecting nothing. I think it’s time for us as a nation to stop demanding we win, and supporting the team we have.

Here are a few “England are Out” comments:

"England's worst-ever World Cup performance"

"Boring, Disappointing, Uninspired waste of an hour and a half"

And here are a few from the other side of the pond:

"Obama congratulates US heroes"

"Tens of millions of international viewers tuned in to watch Team USA's heroic defeat to Belgium"


Will Walcott Be Missed by Arsenal? or England?

Nearly eight years ago, the England manager Sven Goran Eriksson made arguably the bravest (maybe the only brave) decision of his England tenure when he named 17-year-old Theo Walcott in his 2006 World Cup squad. Sadly, such a bold move was then negated by his subsequent short-sighted failure to give his young protégé a single minute on the field, making his presence in Germany totally futile and a mockery of the whole argument for his initial inclusion.
Four years later, Fabio Capello contraversially failed to include Walcott in his squad for South Africa, and now, as England's campaign in Brazil looms ahead, a cruciate ligament injury has apparently ruled Walcott out of the tournament, meaning that he will not get the chance to grace a World Cup till Russia 2018, by which time this promising young talent will be 29.

But how much will England miss him, and more immediately, how crucial will his absence be in Arsenal's attempt to claim their first premiership title for a decade? Despite his early introduction his England career has been sporadic rather than prolific, his five goals in 36 appearances highlighted by his hattrick in a World Cup qualifier in Croatia in 2010. He has, however, only come off the field twice as a loser in an England shirt, both in meaningless friendlies, so maybe he could claim to be something of a talisman.
Arsenal can claim him to more than that, as his impact for the Gunners can be seen to be a lot more impressive. Since the start of the 2012-13 season, Walcott can finally be seen to be coming of age, scoring 21 goals last season, to go with a further 6 between niggling injury layoffs this year.

In the 18 games in which he has featured this season, Arsenal have won 14, losing just two, while in the 13 matches without him, four have ended in defeat to go with two draws and seven victories. Of course, everything is relative:  three of those four defeats without him were against the might of Manchester United, Borussia Dortmund and Chelsea, against whom his impact might have been limited anyway, so it is all statistical conjecture. However, there can be no doubt that his five goals and five assists have been important, especially as Aaron Ramsey's early season purple patch is momentarily fading.

The final conclusion is perhaps that Walcott's injury is more of a cruel blow for him personally than a devastating blow for club or country. The emergence of Andros Townsend at the end of England's qualifying campaign put Walcott's starting position in doubt anyway, while the return to training of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is the boost Arsenal needed that might prevent them panic buying in the January transfer window, and I think Mr Wenger would be more concerned with keeping Ozil and Giroud on the pitch than replacing Walcott, as it is they who seem to hold the key to turning Arsenal's early season promise into actual silverware.

For Walcott it is long haul back to fitness, and he'll be hoping his contribution to the season will be remembered for more than his cheeky 2-0 gesture to taunting Tottenham fans while being carted off on a stretcher.