Matthew Monk


 
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 this event.

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All played out



    Now is the time to gloat if you dislike or hate England.

    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 rubbish.

    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.


 

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