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The England Catastrophe

Well, I said 1-1 before it started.  (Not publicly or anything, so you'll just have to be believe me.)  And although that prediction was partly a defense mechanism, I never shared the conviction of most of my fellow England fans camped out at Foakeng's Lucky Bar yesterday afternoon -- or of the jingoistic papers from which they seemed to take their cue -- that this would be easy. 

Those England fans, by the way, seem to have mellowed a bit.  I may be wrong about this, but I have the feelling that if, hours before the kickoff of England's first World Cup game in say, 1986, you'd worn a Germany soccer jersey while walking into a bar packed with England fans a mile from the stadium -- many of them drinking all day -- you'd have gotten a nasty word or two at the very least.  But all my German friend got with his Schweinsteiger shirt was a couple people wanting to talk about their experience in Berlin in 06.  With the Argentina game playing on TV, there was one guy who tried to get a "The Falklands Are Ours" chant going, but he was younger and middle-class, and seemed to be looking for approval, and it quickly died.  This seems basically generational, at least with the German thing.  In the 80s, if you were an England fan over say 60, you'd more than likely fought in the war, and if you were younger your Dad might have.  Today that's ancient history.  Having said all this, the four England fans in front of us at the game almost got thrown out after starting little half-fights with several different groups of (frankly pretty annoying and lippy) Americans.  So maybe not much has changed -- there's just less historical consciousness in today's football hooligans.

This is another story, but I had a weird and slightly traumatic moment during the playing of God Save the Queen, when the American guy behind me irritatingly started singing that "Sweet Land of Liberty" song which has the same tune as God Save the Queen, and in my combination of nervousness and mild drunkenness I got confused and thought they were playing the American national anthem.  So I sort of sat it out, and then realized at the end that I'd gotten it wrong and missed the chance for the big expression of unity and momentum that the end of the national anthem gives you.  "At least give us our national anthem," I said to the American.  "Oh, you can have it," he replied, smiling Americanly.  

I've tried to put off talking about the game itself because when a big game gets decided on a thing like happened last night, a dignified silence sort of feels like the only possible response.  But that doesn't work on the internets, so here goes.

I've never quite been convinced by the legend of Capello as some kind of tactical genius (or frankly, I guess, by the legend of any football coach as a tactical genius) and yesterday he seemed to get every big decision wrong.  Green instead of James, enough said.  But Milner instead of Joe Cole on the left -- apparently with the idea of offering Ashley Cole more help in containing Donovan -- also didn't work out, as was made clear when Milner, who had struggled with fitness all week, was pulled off after half an hour having failed to get anywhere close to the game.  The Ledley King experiment also was a bust, with the injury-prone center-back having to come off at half-time.  That his replacement, Jamie Carragher, lacks the speed to be reliable at this level was quickly exposed by Jozy Altidore, during a terrifying, muscular run that almost gave the U.S. an unlikely victory.    

As so often, the Lampard-Gerrard tandem often struggled to really influence the game.  Neither seemed eager to take anyone on, although Gerrard tackled well, and had a nicely-taken goal.  Aaron Lennon looked like by far our most dangerous player, getting to the byline against Bocanegra almost at will, although his final ball wasn't always the best.

I've seen some criticism of Rooney's performance, but I thought he did as well as could be expected.  Michael Bradley -- America's best player, I thought -- seemed to have been directed not to let him out of his sight, but Rooney still had a few of his usual nicely placed flicks and layoffs.  It makes things a lot harder when your striking partner isn't himself a threat to score -- as Heskey demonstrated by shooting straight at Howard when played clear through early in the second half.

Also, aside from about ten minutes in the second half, the scoreboard didn't work, which was more annoying than I expected.  I found I could never quite erase from my mind the nagging fear -- or hope -- that one of the goals hadn't really counted, or that I'd missed one or something.

Looks like David James is odds on to start against Algeria.  Hard to argue with that.