The Three Lions’ early exit from the World Cup confirms the word around town that they are overhyped perennial underachievers. It is now safe to say to call England the new “sick man of European football.” In the words of Argentine legend Diego Maradona, “England cannot go on like this.”
Year in, year out, tournament after tournament, something great is usually expected of them, but in the end it never materializes. This year, though, we all knew they were not going to produce something special, but there was much buzz and optimism surrounding the new crop of players in the national setup. Much was expected of the likes of Ross Barkley, Raheem Sterling and Jordan Henderson – the so called new generation – but they did very little to live up to their billing.
The lack of a winter break in the English Premier League is often singled out as an excuse when England fails in a major tournament. Without a Christmas and New Year break, players usually end up fatigued in the final months of the season. Time has come for the English Football Association to identify its priorities. It needs to set the record straight regarding which it considers to be more important: the English National Football Team or the English Premier League.
Captain Cristiano Ronaldo couldn't have summed up his team better in this astonishing remark he made on Monday:
“Maybe we're an average team. It would be a lie to say that we are a ‘top’ team. We have many limitations and suffer from injuries such as with Pepe [who was suspended] and Coentrao. This limits us a lot. We have a very limited team and we are not at the best level. This does not enable you to beat top teams.
“There are no miracles. We knew we would have a tough group, with perhaps teams better than us. I never thought we could be world champions; we have to be humble and know our level. I'm not a hypocrite; I never thought we could win the tournament.”
Saying that either of USA and Ghana are better teams than Portugal on paper is a debate for another day, but his confirmation of his team's ordinariness will not really surprise anyone. Humbled by Germany in their opening encounter, escaping by the whiskers with a draw against the USA and made to sweat it hard for a victory by a tough Ghana on Thursday, the World’s best footballer will now have to watch the next round of matches from a holiday resort as he mulls over a difficult personal and collective World Cup campaign.
As the whooping boys of Group B, the socceroos were never really anybody’s favourites to make it past the group stages, but going down in three straight games, scoring just three and conceding a whooping 9 in the process was not what they could have bargained for. Throughout their stay in the tournament, they were battered and bruised on all fronts, culminating in a 3-0 whitewash by a so-so Spanish side.
The Ivorians were rated the second best African team by FIFA prior to the tournament. Their performance in the fiesta itself, especially in front of their opponent’s goal, suggests anything but that. Instead, it was the African champions, Nigeria, that stole the show courtesy of dogged performances against Bosnia-Herzegovina and Argentina. The proud footballing nation that has Didier Drogba and Yaya Toure among their ranks would have expected themselves to do better, at least by making it into the knockout phase, but it was not to be.
Easily brushed aside by the might of their opponents, Hong Myung-Bo’s side failed to inspire themselves to any victory in Group H. Their fate was already sealed after a surprise 4-2 defeat to Algeria. Theirs was a similar fate to the three other Asian nations that made it to the tournament. Iran, Japan, South Korea and Australia played a total of 12 matches, drawing three and losing nine. Three points out of a possible 36 is actually worse than it sounds for a continent of 4.3 billion people.
The all-conquering reigning world champions bowed out with a meaningless 3-0 victory over Australia on Monday. On Tuesday, they found themselves in Madrid, beaten and battered; in tears. They bode emotional goodbyes to each other and proceeded to their various homes in preparation for what promises to be a reflective, soul-searching summer holiday, while their colleagues are in Brazil, chasing the gold they won in such a dominant fashion way back in 2010.
While it is no longer news, their premature exit will forever be a dent in their glorious recent football history.
Spain – the world champions who surrendered their gold without throwing a punch.