Let’s be blunt: to support England is to vacillate between uncontrollable hope and soulless dejection. Extreme optimism is often entirely unjustified, a national buoyancy fuelled more by a desperate craving for success than by any sane analysis of what we see on the pitch. Equally, the tragic fallout of Armageddon-by-penalties represents a reaction all too strong- we mostly achieve exactly what we deserve, a fact frequently obscured by missed spot-kicks, goalkeeping catastrophes and villainous red-cards. However, you can be sure that, once it all gets started, logical evaluation and emotional neutrality will disappear faster than Sven-Göran Eriksson with a compensatory paycheque. As any true football-loving Englishman must, then, I will abandon my sense of moderate realism and consider the dichotomous possibilities of our historic/doomed South African campaign: as ever, it’s win or bust.
Why England Will Win The World Cup:
The team has an excellent spine, and, in Ferdinand, Terry, Cole and Johnson, might have the best back-four in the tournament. If Gerrard and Lampard perform to their undoubted capabilities, our central midfield can be as good as any in the competition, too. Erratic yet mercurial Theo Walcott has the potential to explode onto the world scene, though he does need to prove that he can consistently produce at the highest level.
Our crucial man, the man with enough world-class talent and zealous tenacity to power us to the trophy, is the hub upon which England’s wheel of fortune will imminently turn: Rooney is one of the planet’s top players, and requires no paean here. If he plays to the heights of his ability, England can ride Rooney to the pinnacle of global sport, and he himself could be propelled into the upper echelons of all-time great footballers. A second forward, Heskey or Crouch, are ideal foils, players with whom Rooney has experienced sustained joy. On the field, we’ve got a shot.
Capello is another major reason for English confidence. It is no exaggeration to suggest that he has swept a revolution through the ranks, dismissing the post-McClaren malaise with tactical virtuosity and a disciplinarian approach that means serious business. No WAGS, no World Cup song, no nonsense. A simple group-stage (we will dismantle the USA, Algeria and Slovenia) will inspire belief and set us on the track to victory. 4 games later, we’re world champs. Simple.
Why England Will Return Home Empty-handed:
A list of concepts is just as elucidating as any argument can be: Spain, Argentina, Brazil, Messi, Xavi & Iniesta, penalties, unchecked egos, intra-squad controversy, inability to play possession football, tendency to chase shadows against technically-superior opposition (under an exhausting, searing South African sun), media-generated super-pressure, just being England etc…
A huge question-mark at keeper is a concerning issue, especially given (another mention, but unavoidable) our historical preponderance of shoot-outs. Left-wing is a vacuum, a perennial problem position, but hopefully either Joe Cole can rekindle the magic (see vs. Sweden, 2006) or Adam Johnson can accelerate his progress. That we rely so heavily upon Rooney is also a latent danger: injury or under-performance could incite a complete self-destruction for England.
We continuously over-rate the team, the players are likely half-zonked from a depleting Premier League season, and that inevitable, familiar feeling of gutted devastation is maybe only a few short weeks away. But then, who can ever predict how a World Cup will play itself out? Til the tournament kicks-off, at least, I suppose it’s better to be deludedly expectant than soberly rational. Chances are, we’ll probably have to settle for quarter-final mediocrity again, anyway.