France, England World Cup Window Dressing
France and England boast top talents in their ranks, which include some of the most successful footballers at the club level, world class names who were instrumental in winning their local league this past season.
And yet, neither side has capitalized on the hype. On the contrary, each has put up an abysmal overall performance in their first two group games.
France could only muster a scoreless draw against Uruguay in its opening game, and were beaten convincingly by Mexico in its second game, setting themselves up for an early exit.
England drew with the USA in its opener and then drew again with Algeria in a match-up that most analysts predicted would lead to a comfortable win for the heavily favored squad.
So what's going on?
It's simple. It isn't about the big names. At least not anymore.
While France and England boast top class players, they sorely lack two key ingredients necessary for success on the World Cup stage.
Team coherence and national spirit.
In an increasingly competitive field, where the gap between the traditional powerhouses and the underdogs is forever narrowing, fielding eleven top class players no longer cuts it.
Fielding one cohesive team is what you want to shoot for. The two certainly do not equate to the same thing.
Zidane said it best after the France vs Uruguay opener, when he heaped abuse on Domenech, whom he rightly regards as incompetent:
They didn't play together and it was more a case of individual efforts. The players must take responsibility for themselves, move themselves. You have to be straight with each other.
[Domenech] is not a coach. He picked his squad and he has to make them play together. You must put your ego to one side and work together. Teamwork is the most important thing, and that's not what we saw during the [Uruguay] match.
The same can be said of England.
Rooney was so much a shadow of his Manchester United self against Algeria that at one point in the match, I found myself contemplating whether he was drunk.
Gerard, could hardly deliver a meaningful pass, was not much better. Lampard, Terry, and the others seemed to run around without vision or purpose. The English, like the French, seem indifferent, unimaginative, and lack inspiration.
Contrast that with North Korea and Slovenia, hardly two powerhouses. The individual talent on either of those two teams could not compare with France or England's.
And yet, they seem to enjoy team coherence and spirit. They over-achieve and are also relatively more fun to watch.
How did USA tie England, who are a far better side on paper? By playing as a team, and by playing with heart.
That was enough to balance out the superior English talent and experience.
Perhaps France and England are suffering from Football Diva Syndrome.
Perhaps their players have experienced so much success at the club level - as well as withered so much of the accompanying pressures - that they have become desensitized to the mesmerizing lights of national football, and are too jaded to appreciate the urgency of the World Cup stage.
They play like it's a chore, like they don't really want to be there.
Where is the passion? Where is the self-belief?
Whatever their ailment, one thing is for sure. At this rate, if they make an early exit, they will not be missed.
The World Cup deserves better. Fans of the beautiful game deserve teams that not only have talent, but also display drive, urgency, and sheer fire.
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