Monday, 26 June 2006

Go England, Go! - My World Cup 2006 Journal (Part 8)

Unlike many fellow Hong Kongers, I am never a fan of the English football team. Their 1-0 defeat of Ecuador last night yet again provided a perfect explanation of why the English gentlemen in the football pitch never receive my support, let alone appreciation.

For at least four decades, the English have not abandoned their boring strategy of long passes and sublime parabolic shots. Generations of football players have come and gone, but the English strategy has never changed.

That's why David Beckham is never my cup of tea. Though he may be talented in one way or another, it seems to me that he knows nothing about football other than accurate long passes and parabolic free-kicks. Most of his scores come from free-kicks as a result of fouls of the opposing teams. Previous international tournaments have proved countless times that England's strategy has long lost its silver-lining, and those playing against England will try to avoid as many fouls as possible to minimise England's chance of scoring. And it works. The English don't seem to have another way of kicking the ball into the net.

The key problem for England is, in my opinion, the absence of a world-class striker that has the skills and incentive to score whenever he can. Following the retirement of Gary Lineker who participated in the Mexico World Cup in 1986 - and I bet 95% of my fellow Hong Kong female fans have never heard about him - England has never had any world-class striker that was good enough to win the Gold Shoe Award, a personal award for the top scorer in World Cup tournaments. Although England was ousted in the quarter-finals in 1986, Lineker maintained his status as the top scorer. And, more importantly, he was the only English player in World Cup history to have won this personal glory.

Don't you think it is a harsh irony for England? Don't you think it is ignorant, if naive at all, to claim that the English football squad is the best in 20 years?

Name the best strikers who have appeared in the English Premier League over the past decade or so. Eric Cantona and Dennis Bergkamp, I would say. Cantona is French and Bergkamp is Dutch. Forget Alan Shearer and Michael Owen and even Wayne Rooney. They are at best opportunists in the football pitch with a capability to run 100 metres within 12 seconds.

Having said that, Ecuador was largely responsible for their defeat last night. Perhaps I will never understand why Ecuador abandoned their traditional style of short passes and small group penetration that has worked so well in previous matches, including their first appearance in World Cup this year against Germany. For some unknown reasons, the Ecuadorians seemed to adopt the same strategy of long overhead passes as the English, which was one of the most unwise things I have ever seen. How could the Ecuadorians possibly believe that they were going to beat the English with the strategy that the English have been mastering for decades as an indigenous football heritage? Worse still, this was a strategy the Ecuadorians unfamiliar with. Fans can easily tell from the live broadcast that the Ecuadorian players were far too hesitant. Apparently they did not have any confidence in the strategy. Should they be able to play their own style of football, they would have a much better chance of beating the English and move ahead.

It is perfectly understandable to make slight adjustments, taking lessons from the previous match. But in international tournaments like the World Cup, one can never afford to launch an overhaul of strategy and test it out in the knock-out round. And one doesn't need to verify by experience whether a strategy works or not, if he/she has done a bit more research on his/her opponent.

Go, England. It's time for you to go. Go back and think things through. Think carefully what you have improved over the past decade, or since the retirement of Lineker. Try your luck next time.

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