Being stuck at work today, I couldn't watch the England v. Croatia football match at the new Wembley Stadium that would determine whether England qualified for the Euro 2008 tournament (they needed only a tie).
I followed the game on ESPN's Gametracker, where a running commentary continually updates. I love whoever wrote the one today. Here's two samples, after England gave up goals to go down 0-2 (remember, home team score is first). Around 8 minutes in:
Oh no! England 0-1 Croatia. A howler by Scott Carson. Kranjcar hit one from 30 yards, it bounced just in from of him but flicked up off his hands and in to the net. A devastating blow.
England manager Steve McClaren was heavily criticized for starting Carson, who plays his club football for Aston Villa, instead of steady Paul Robinson of Spurs, because Carson had played all of one match for the national team before today. I feel the writer's pain. At the 14 minute mark, more bad news for The Three Lions:
Goal! England 0-2 Croatia. Calamity. Eduardo slipped in Olic who beats a static backline, rounds Carson and leave England with a mountain to climb.
McClaren was also heavily criticized pre-match for leaving David Beckham, who even at his age and with injuries, still is the one English player that can change a match with a bit of genius, on the bench. He was brought on at the half and, surprise! England played better. A penalty kick in the 56th minute was converted by Frank Lampard of Chelsea and you could tell the writer of the running commentary is torn: s/he *wants* to believe, but has seen far too many England disasters to really commit.
Ah, but then in the 65th minute, Beckham curls a free kick in, the beanpole Peter Crouch (very tall for a footballer at 6'7") heads it in, the Liverpool FC piece of shite and it's game on. If someone could have an orgasm via doing the running commentary, the person doing this match had one. Hilarious.
England, however, live down to their reputation in the 77th minute::
Goal! Petric scores! He shoots from the edge of the area and it's disaster again. England 2-3 Croatia. Carson saw that very late but maybe should have done better.
Oh dear oh dear. Croatia took the air out of the ball for the remainder of the match, walk out of Wembley 3-2 winners and England, once again, is going to be sitting home during Euro 2008, McClaren's two tactical moves (Carson and Beckham) having backfired catastrophically. I had planned to follow them around Switzerland and Austria, where the 2008 tournament is being held, but I think I'll save my money now. The final comment on Gamecast is perfect:
A horrific night for England, one which will take a long, long time to get over. This is set to be an ugly, ugly post-mortem.
I can do that right now: England sucks. They still have that Empire-era arrogance that just because they're English, they're better than anyone else, even though all the best players in the English Premiership are Johnny Foreinger, their tactics haven't evolved since Churchill was Prime Minister (kick the ball long, chase it and develop plays from there), the managers are under so much pressure they simply can't do their job and the fans expectations are all out of proportion to the reality of the situation.
Seriously, the only hope for England is if UEFA/FIFA institute a "only 3 foreign players per team" rule that they're currently considering, that's the only way that English talent will have a chance to develop properly in the domestic game so that the national team has players that can do more than run their balls off for 90 minutes. You know, things that the South Americans and Continentals do so well like being able to string three passes together, dribble the ball for more than 5 seconds and play as a team.
Oh well. Go Germany in Euro 2008!