International football for England at the moment, for those who actually care anymore, is pretty darn depressing. Fabio Capello’s head is on the block, Lampard and Gerrard are still – somehow– in genuine contention for a starting birth, England still can’t play entertaining football, and John Terry is captain. And, in amongst all of that, England actually won two games of football without conceding a goal, extending their unbeaten run to nine months.
Of course, England fans know better than to view results as enough: they need the performances too and they, for a long time, haven’t been good enough. Maybe expectations are too high, maybe the players are under-performing – maybe one of the most decorated managers of this generation doesn’t know what he’s doing – but, for whatever reason, England fans are incredibly pessimistic at the minute
The 5-1 victory over Germany in 2001 – easily one of the most cherished results in modern English footballing history – is massively overrated by England fans who have little to cheer about and so bang on about this and 1966; the game was laden with mistakes from both sides and was a pretty mediocre performance from England particularly.
Put simply, the 5-1 win over Germany could include many caveats. Oliver Kahn had a poor night in goal and probably should have saved all three of Owen’s goals and done better with Gerrard’s strike; Sebastian Deisler missed a sitter from four yards which may well have swung the game back into Germany’s favour; Germany made many silly errors both defensively and offensively and – to be blunt – weren’t very good: even Heskey scored, guffaw guffaw.
The English defending consisted of wayward brute force, lax marking and last-ditch clearances resulting from poor reading of the game. Sol Campbell and Rio Ferdinand were, at times, completely oblivious to the movement of the Germans and caught ball-watching on far too many occasions – most visibly for the early opening goal.
The main source of attack for the away side was the long ball: there was no intricate, attractive football involved, just the hurried Hollywood hoof of David Beckham looking for Michael Owen on the shoulder of the last man. Steven Gerrard and Gary Neville also joined in with the punts up field to try and find the runs of Owen or the frame of Emile Heskey. Germany tried to get the ball down and play, but England’s ruthless defending didn’t allow them to and, with Carsten Jancker up front, they – at times – reverted to the long ball too. For the football fan of the purist genre, it really was a poor game.
If the game from 2001 was played tomorrow, you get the feeling that the above negative points would all be made post-match either to prevent fans, media and players getting ahead of themselves as has happened before – only for disappointment to inevitably hit home at some stage – or because some fans clearly don’t enjoy watching England and refuse to forget the golden generation let-downs.
Clearly, it would take a miserable, fun-sucking, pessimistic and downright joyless football fan to see their country beat one of it’s biggest rivals, scoring five goals away from home in the process, and still not be happy, to still expect more. And this is obviously an extreme case. But, in the current climate that we, as England fans, find ourselves in, it’s not completely ridiculous to think that, after a result such as that in 2001, today’s fans would still find problems and would still be unhappy – and would still be baying for the manager’s blood because he’s playing Nick Barmby on the left wing – with Steve McManaman on the bench – and continuing to play Heskey whilst adopting a style that is about as much fun as watching an old women sheepishly crawl across a pedestrian crossing.
England have won four out of their last six games, drawing with Ghana (in a friendly game that was actually entertaining) and with Switzerland in a Euro qualifier. Their last loss came at home to France in November 2010 and that was their first loss since the 4-1 hammering by Germany at the World Cup in June.
Going away to Bulgaria and scoring three goals is impressive. Never mind the fact the performance was pretty dour – for now, it will do. Just as in the Wales game, England were and will continue to be ‘the team to beat’ and the ante is indeed upped – they have their obvious flaws but because of their history and world-wide brand, a win over the Three Lions would be seen as quite a scalp. So, to come out of two qualifying games with six points, four goals and two clean sheets isn’t all that bad. If your club side came out with that kind of record, it would be seen as a resounding success – with England, it’s almost the opposite.
Yes, there is context – for far too long England have been bloody awful and incredibly difficult to watch and they will probably ‘flop’ at the next major tournament. But that’s got as much to do with the expectations of fans and the media than it has the team itself. The point is: stop being miserable, enjoy the football and, when your country wins a game of football, for goodness sake celebrate it.