Matthew Monk is a school teacher
from the UK who has the World Cup as one of his greatest passions. He will share his views about the past, present and future of
Read earlier columns
All played out
Now is the time to gloat if you dislike or hate
I sincerely hope you enjoy it, and am happy that it
gives you pleasure. That means that England have been
good and have scared you. It means we came close, we
were almost there. Sure we lost - to a better team on
the day - but deep down I know that England have been
as good as anyone during these last 22 days. And that
makes me happy, because I know England will be back -
and next time we will be better.
But I am not stupid enough to pretend we played
anywhere near as good enough to deserve to win -
England played worse in this the biggest of games than
they have all through the tournament.
When do you think England lost the game? When
Eriksson replaced Owen with Darius Vassell? No.
Similarly the game was well over by the time
Ronaldinho scored his fluke. Let's go back further
still then. How about when Rivaldo equalised? Not
even then. England lost the game the minute Ronaldo
scored the second Brazilian goal against Belgium.
They were defeated off the pitch, in their own minds.
They simply did not believe they could beat Brasil -
not yesterday, not tomorrow, not ever. This is the
weakest Brazilian team since the defensive rump of
1974, and yet they controlled a star studded English
team without a need to barely break sweat. And don't
forget Brasil played with ten men for 30 minutes.
So England were poor, very poor. Apart from the five
minutes before Owen scored, and fifteen minutes after
it, England were not able to get their game going.
There was no pressing, no measured passing and
movement. Heskey had another impressive game,
dragging Lucio, Roque Junior and Edmilson all over the
place, but he had no support and precious little
quality service. The same went for Owen, easily too
good for Lucio and Marcos when scoring, but limping
and ineffectual for the rest of the time. It was a
disjointed, second rate performance, in a game that
was devoid of the type of quality Europeans are used
to seeing week in, week out in the Champions League.
As I said, England were poor. No, England were
Excuses? Well it was hot, but then the ball never
gets tired no matter how much you kick it around, so
why then did England insist on hoofing long, aimless
balls around instead of playing the quick, tight
passing they showed against Argentina and Denmark? If
you pass the ball to feet, no one has to run miles in
such heat, and no one gets that tired.
What about the fact that Seaman was unlucky, and that
Ronaldinho's goal was a fluke? Well, so what? It
still counted, and Seaman has done this type of things
many times before - everyone remembers Nayim in 1995,
but Seaman has looked less than sprightly many times
for Arsenal. On top of that he is heavier than ever
before, and at 37 cannot hope to be as agile as the
likes of Richard Wright, Paul Robinson or Chris
Kirkland. And yet he made save after save while
England got this far - against Germany, Sweden,
Argentina and Nigeria. He was the best keeper
available to Eriksson, and while he was at fault for
the equaliser, no one before the game would have
wanted to see another player in goal.
Is there any more validity in the argument that
England were too tired - 'we play too much football!'
- and too injured? Well, I don't hold with the too
much football argument, almost everyone in this
England team has had a rest at some stage this season,
be it through injury, or tactics. And if you are too
tired to play in a World Cup quarter final then you do
not deserve to play anyway. But the injury scenario
holds more weight.
There is no doubt that Beckham and Owen were not fit.
Owen had one real chance and duly scored, but he
simply did not look capable of making anymore.
Beckham was even worse - he has been exhausted in the
last ten minutes of every game so far and barely
crossed in enough good balls to count on one hand. On
top of this, he had his recurring nightmare when
playing against Roberto Carlos. Beckham faces Carlos
regularly when Manchester United and Real Madrid meet,
and he is yet to play well against him. Yesterday he
restricted himself to knocking longer balls behind the
Brazilian, and never once took him on in an attempt to
get the ball in for Heskey, Owen or Sheringham. It
was his worst performance of the tournament, and in
reality it has been a tournament where he has been
poor. Better luck next time.
But the big loss to injury was Steven Gerrard.
Gerrard is already fast becoming England's best
player, and he is on the verge of becoming the most
complete midfielder in global football. He can
tackle, shoot, pass and organise. He regularly
outplays Roy Keane when Liverpool and Man Utd play,
and he was sat at home. In his absence, Scholes and
Butt did their best, but Scholes cannot tackle and
Butt does not have anywhere near the passing
repertoire of Gerrard. But even then, everyone knew
Gerrard was going to be unavailable, ever since the
last day of the Premiership season. England still had
time to work something out. They did not.
And so even though these excuses hold some weight,
they do not really explain why England were so poor.
I don't think anything can. England lost. Full Stop.
There need be no excuses, no complaining, no arguing.
We lost to a better team. Yes it was a team we were
capable of beating, but we did not. We won't be going
to FIFA to accuse the referee of bias, or ban
Brazilians from the Premiership. The country is not
happy we lost, we just accept it.
Anyway, the World Cup has had a magical effect on
England. Since September our football team have made
us happy, and we have been engulfed in a wave of
celebration. The St George's Cross is everywhere:
painted on fire engines, in chip shops and Indian
restaurants, hanging out of bedroom windows and worn
painted across millions of faces.
Has it brought us together, and made us closer?
Probably not for very long. But the notion of
Englishness now has something positive to be built
upon. Even our football fans in Japan have been well
behaved. They have become the most feted, most
popular set of fans in Asia, competing with Brasil to
become everyone's favourite second team. Sure, this
is because the majority of England fans could not
afford to travel and many are saving up for Portugal
in two years time. But the government can also take
some credit - as can the Japanese. English hooligans
have been cracked down on and banned from travelling.
No one is stupid enough to think hooliganism has
disappeared, but just as Eriksson's team has given us
new hope, perhaps our supporters are ready to turn
over a new leaf? Well we can hope anyway.
So what is next? Well the new season will be underway
in just over a month, and by the time Brasil, Germany,
Korea, Turkey or Senegal have finished celebrating,
Owen, Beckham and all the rest will be back in
pre-season training. Then the qualifiers for Euro
2004 start. England have got to hope to be in with a
chance of success in Portugal. Eriksson has quashed
all the rumours linking him with Manchester United,
and if he manages to find a few new faces to pack out
the squad with the same quality he has in his first
team, then who knows? And of course, the World Cup
will be back in Europe - where it belongs - in four
years time. Owen, Gerrard, Heskey, Hargreaves,
Ferdinand and the two Coles will be in their
mid-twenties, Beckham, Scholes, Butt and Campbell will
be 30 or 31. That is the prime age for a team likely
to win the World Cup. I hope.
But still you cannot help wondering what might have
been, and wishing that the same England that met
Argentina had run out against Brasil. Football is a
cruel, hurtful game. But it is also immensely
rewarding. That is why we love it so much.
So all that is left is for the team to fly home - as
heroes - and for Germany and Brasil to fight out the
World Cup Final. After this tournament of shocks and
upheaval, it would be fitting if football's two true
superpowers met for the first time in a competitive
fixture in Yokohama. And while I want Germany to win,
there is no malice, no hatred of Brasil. Why should
there be - they were deserved winners.
With apologies for plagiarism to Pete Davies, you have
to say that England were all played out. We will be
back. Come on England.
Info on how
the World Cup was founded and about the trophy as well.
on every match in every tournament.
Interesting columns about the past, present and future of the World Cup.
with appearances in the World Cup. Detailed info on every country.
of many of the most influential players in history.
An A-Z collection
of strange and different stories in World Cup history.
A big collection
of various statistics and records.
since it was introduced in 1966.
knowledge about the WC. Three different levels. No prizes, just for fun.
lots of stuff. For instance Best Goals, Best Players and Best Matches.
of links to other soccer sites with World Cup connection.
and buttons for you to link to us if you want.
A little information
on who keeps this site available.