During my football supporting life, England have endured a somewhat fractious relationship with major tournaments.
The heartache of losing the 1990 Semi-Final against Germany on penalties was compounded four years later when under the stewardship of one of my heroes, Graham Taylor, England failed to qualify for the World Cup Finals in the United States, thus denying England supporters of their only credible opportunity of seeing Diana Ross miss an open goal from two yards out. Two years later, England hosted the 1996 European Championships, where beneath the majestic twin towers of Wembley, we lost in a semi-final again. On penalties. Again. To Germany. Again.
Since the misery of those penalty shoot-outs and the shock of missing out on USA ’94, England have settled into a fairly solid rhythm of qualifying for tournaments with relative ease, before being knocked out in an equally straightforward manner. To make matters worse, despite a wealth of evidence warning against it, England supporters had developed a habit of heading into tournaments with a healthy dose of that most dangerous of things. Hope.
It’s fair to say that the last World Cup in South Africa put paid to that. England’s showing was pretty poor and so numb was I at my country’s dismal showing, I have little recollection of the remainder of the tournament. As we complained about Frank Lampard’s disallowed strike in the game that saw us dumped out by Germany (again!) we didn’t know it, but we were actually experiencing the start of the healing process.
Following the disappointment of South Africa, England fans travelled to see their team at the 2012 European Championships in Poland and the Ukraine with a different outlook. Unburdened by hope and unshackled from expectation. Do you know what? Supporting England became fun again.
Fast forward to 2014 and we are preparing to get behind our team at a major tournament once more, safe in the knowledge that we probably won’t win, but certain that we’ll make the most of it, and for the first time in a long time – confident that the players will too.
Group D is a tough one of course. England are prone to being slow starters in tournaments, so an opening group game against Italy in Manaus was unlikely to be high on anyone’s wish list. The climate will be a challenge for both teams and it will be intriguing to see how the players that we are so familiar with, adapt to completely unfamiliar conditions. I also wonder if facing a marque name in their opening fixture might give England a bit of added focus in their preparation.
Hodgson’s men will face Uruguay next, and anyone who has seen a Suarez-powered Liverpool fire their way to the Premier League summit will need no reminding that this game is fraught with danger. I’m looking forward to this one as I’ve always had a soft spot for Uruguay. In much the same as I admire the Green Bay Packers for winning the first ever NFL SuperBowl, I appreciate the Uruguayans’ place in world football history as the inaugural winners of the World Cup back in 1930. Taking place in Sao Paulo, my base for two weeks, this second group fixture will no easier than the first.
The final game against Costa Rica will in all likelihood see England needing a win to progress and I think they will get it, securing their place as runners up in the group. I also think England will progress in their second round fixture and once into the last eight, anything can happen…
England have a mixture of young exciting players who are linking up with a number of older and more experienced performers, and whilst I won’t be putting any money on us winning the tournament, you can bet your bottom dollar that this time round, we’ll give it a decent go.
Come on England!