Sunday, 27 June 2010

Did we ever consider that Germany might be quite good?

You probably won't be surprised when you hear that, having watched the England-Germany World Cup match today, I feel like a rant.

What might surprise you is that it isn't actually about the England team. Sure, they weren't great, losing 4-1 can't just be put down to a disallowed goal (why didn't the commentators notice the massive parallels with 1966?). But at the risk of being proved horribly wrong when Germany play Argentina next week, maybe it might just be that Germany are quite good.

Everyone has been saying that this is a weak German team, and maybe compared to some of their past sides that might be fair. However the combination of Podolski and Klose up front, with midfielders including Oezil and Schweinsteiger, means that they are clearly a massive attacking threat. England's defence looked very average today, but given that the only goal we conceded in the rest of the tournament was a speculative long-shot, surely its fair to put a significant amount of the blame for the loss on some pretty outstanding German counter-attacking?

On top of that, the disallowed goal clearly had a massive impact. Both of Germany's second half goals came when counter-attacking when England had overcommitted up front. The defending was still poor, but equally the situations very possibly wouldn't have come about had the game been level at 2-2.

So, on the whole, it could easily have ended up differently had a few things gone differently, but on the whole was a fair result against a good side. Was this the reaction of most England fans? Of course not. Listening to 5live on the way home from the game the most common words flying around, from both callers and the pundits, included 'woeful', 'embarrassing', 'debacle' (although I have to say, I do like that word...); one caller had a list of England players who 'should never have played international football': it included every single player in the team other than David James, Ashley Cole and Steven Gerrard. One caller, combining both spectacular economic knowledge and expert football punditry, said that the entire team needed a pay-cut because we're in a recession. (No seriously, that's what he said). On the whole, everyone seemed very angry.

This brings us to a massive question about English sports supporters in general; why can't we deal with doing badly? The way things ended up today the blame is on the players for being so 'woeful', had the game finished 2-1 then the personal contact details of the referee would probably have been on the front page of The Sun tomorrow. This pattern of blame goes back a long way: in the last world cup we went out because Ronaldo cheated, in 1998 it was because Beckham got himself sent off. It also spreads across other sports: in the tennis this week the press have responded to Andy Murray being the only Brit in the second round by castigating the leadership of British Tennis.

The problem with all of this is the simple fact that, in sport, there has to be a winner and loser. The fact that England lost today was not simply a reflection on how they did, but was every bit as much to do with how Germany played. When Anne Keothavong went out of Wimbledon 6-4 in the final set having led 4-0 it wasn't simply because she's British and thus a choker, it was mainly because her opponent played some very good tennis. To lose in sport doesn't necessarily mean you were desperately unlucky or miserably talentless, its simply a fact of a pastime where 50% of competitors are unsuccessful.

I know that most of the ranting is because people care so passionately about sport in this country, and this is often a very good thing. Nonetheless it seems that being so keen to point the finger of blame at anyone and everyone rather than simply accept defeat with good grace is something that needs to be avoided.

On the plus side, having put an outside bet on Germany to win the whole tournament two weeks ago at 14-1, at least every cloud has a silver lining... :)

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