How did we fail to qualify top of one of the easiest groups of the World Cup? The draw with the USA was bearable. The draw with Algeria was inexcusable. The performance against Slovenia was encouraging, but failure to score more than one goal has resulted in nothing more than we deserve – a last 16 encounter with the Germans and a route to the final that could include facing both the Argies and the Spanish…
After freezing our @rses off in the tents we awoke around 9 to find that the Fans Friendly against a local team had been cancelled, giving us a bit of time to relax and get a decent breakfast before the game. There were plenty of England fans at the campsite – plenty of Germans too – mostly frequenting monstrous Winnebagos.
We got a taxi into town – the stadium in Bloem is located next to a shopping centre which is often where a lot of the bars are located in SA. There was a Waterfront area where most of the bars were located. The chants could be heard from a way off. Masses of England flags were draped over the Waterfront balconies, not too many Germans were to be seen.
As it was a Sunday, the off licences were closed. Most of the England fans were crammed into bars and restaurants, anywhere that beers could be bought. We were lucky enough to queue in a restaurant and get just about the last crate of beer available – if you knew the English and Germans were coming to town, would you not stock up on beer?!
The atmosphere before kick off was perhaps the best I’ve experienced. The chanting was pretty much non-stop for 2 hours before the game. Whilst standing on the lower level of the shopping centre we heard the national anthem being blasted out – we looked up to see the Queen and Prince Charles up on a balcony orchestrating the crowd below. There was plenty of banter with the Germans, all good natured. Some of the Englandfans had brought along some inflatable Spitfires to accompany the ’10 German bombers’ song. I’m not usually a fan of the bombers song, its pretty offensive really and having to revert to the war for chanting material is a reminder that our footballing victories against the Fatherland have been few & far between. However, on this occasion, it was sung in good spirit and the Germans even joined in.
The effort that some of the fans had gone to was impressive. Five lads had turned out as Capello look-a-likes – dressed in full England suits with the Three Lions crest on the pocket, fake tan and curly black wigs. On the way into the stadium they got the crowd going with chants of:
‘He’s a jolly Capello, for he’s a jolly Capello, he’s a jolly Capelllllooo…. and so say all of us’
and (to the sound of the Jose Mourinho tune):
‘We’ve got Don Fabio, we’ve got Don Fabio, we’ve got Don Fabio, we’ve got Don Fabiooo….’
The mood before the game was confident. Everyone we spoke to was sure England would win – we must have got the bad performances out of the way during the Group stage? My view from behind the goal was great for the atmosphere but wasn’t the best view as I was only about 10 rows back. We seemed to start off reasonably, having plenty of possession without any real penetration. The Germans seemed to have their tactics fairly clear. Get men behind the ball, soak up the pressure, hit with speed on the counter attack. It’s well documented that England struggle to breakdown defences when they have numbers behind the ball – as we had already seen against Algeria. As with most of the fans we had spoken to, I was in favour of Joe Cole starting. Cole can unlock defences with clever through balls and that bit of magic – Lennon and SWP are skillful and do take people on, but often lose the ball in the process and their success is often limited to the wide positions. Playing Cole on the left would allow Gerrard a free role as a playmaker behind Rooney, both of whom are on the same wavelength. It also allows the two to swap, Cole is a more than capable playmaker. Anyway, Don Fabio knows his stuff, he must have put the right team out to do the job.
After exposing our defence several times, the Germans scored. As soon as the goal went in, the England band started up again and the fans continued to support the team. We were only a goal down and fairly early on in the game. When the second went in the crown didn’t give up hope. Despite our defensive frailties, the game was open and the atmosphere was so intense it felt like this could be one of those all time classic games, England still looked dangerous on occasions and there were definitely goals to be had. When Upson’s first goal went in it was game on. When Lampards equalizer went in I must have had about three pints of beer chucked over my head. The crown went ab-sol-lut-ley bonkers. So much so, that we didn’t realise the goal had been disallowed until after the subsequent German attack. Now from where I was sitting – the opposite end of the stadium, behind the goal, I didn’t have much perspective of how far over the line the ball was, but it wasn’t needed – the crowds reaction said it all – 44’000 people can’t be wrong? That decision changed the game. Although England were in the ascendency for the first ten minutes of the second half, we couldn’t get the (real) equalizer and the Germans picked us off with alarming ease. The decision was bad and no doubt changed the game, but our defending was equally as bad. The decision to substitute Defoe for Heskey was equally as bad as our defending. Putting SWP on the pitch at 4-1 down with only 3 minutes of the game remaining was entirely pointless. Have you heard of Peter Crouch Don Fabio? For £6million a year, I’m sorry, but the manager should have to call a press conference and explain his tactics and the thoughts behind each substitution he makes, after the half-time teamtalk, 2nd half substitutions are how a manager earns their salt.
What was almost as disappointing as the result was the fact that the England players lacked grit and spirit in the second half. The crown kept going throughout the game, even at 87 minutes at 4-1 down the Germans were completely out-sung. At the final whistle, the players traipsed down the tunnel without a word of thanks for the 8000 kilomenters we had travelled by plane and the 3000k by car. Our World Cup dream was over.