The qualifying to get into the World Cup had been a huge success for both Fabio and England. It wasn’t that England weren’t expected to qualify, it was that England weren’t expected to do it with such energy and strength. Old rivals from the Euro 2008 qualifying, Croatia, were expected to push England until the last game, with an equally strong showing from fellow Eastern Europeans, Ukraine. Apart from one slip up, after qualification had already been secured, each nation in the group was comfortably brushed aside by England. Hopes were again high for the World Cup and everything appeared to be going to plan.
A matter of months later and England have some warm up friendlies against Mexico and Japan, as well as a training pitch game against the Platinum Stars. The squad that had been selected for the World Cup was not too different from the squads seen throughout the qualifying campaign. It retained all the key players and had a strong feel about it right from the start. With one or two surprises—mainly in Theo Walcott being left out—the core of the team was the same as ever, and nobody cast a single bad word.
The first friendly match came along, against Mexico, and England waited to see their heroes back in action. Most would say that from this point on the nation continued waiting to see their heroes again. It didn’t appear to be the same side from qualifying that was playing in the friendly. Although England ensured a 3-1 win, with a few rare moments of skill, the overall mood was more downbeat. The newspapers declared that England were lucky to get a result like that against one of the most underrated nations in world football. Still, the public tried to keep their heads up; it had only been one game and everyone still knew what the team could do.
The squad flew back out to their training camp in Austria and prepared for their next game, Japan. The match came and England fans, still as optimistic as ever, were expecting a comfortable victory against an average Japanese side. Instead it finished with a barely earned victory against a skillful Japanese side. In fact, England didn’t manage to score a goal themselves in the game. Japan went ahead and looked good value for their lead, it wasn’t until two mistakes in their defence led to two own goals and a victory for England. Once again the papers began slating the England side, and the disappointed fans reconciled themselves, believing that these performances surely couldn’t happen in the World Cup.
The team moved on to South Africa and played one last warm-up game on the training pitch against local side, Platinum Stars. A 3-0 victory for Capello’s side looked like it had instilled some much needed confidence back into the players and fans. However, hidden away there was still a general feeling that the score should have been far higher against a side so much worse than England. There was no room for pessimism though. The World Cup was now upon the nation and it was do or die. This was the moment the nation had been preparing for. Pundits had been saying it was England’s best chance to win the tournament since 1990 and that the "golden generation" of players was overdue some glory.
The competition came around and England’s first game was against USA. A fourth-minute goal from Steven Gerrard appeared to ease the tension amongst England fans, and it looked like the nation were on their way immediately. Just over half an hour later and England’s hearts suddenly sink. Clint Dempsey takes a strike at goal from distance and goalkeeper Rob Green appears to catch the ball, drop it and then chase it into the net. The moment is replayed by TV stations again and again, and suddenly fans fear that it is this moment, not any other before, that will sum up their World Cup. The game is played out as a 1-1 draw and English fans are disappointed, yet consoling in the fact that it was the hardest group stage game they would face.
The second round of games came around and England face Algeria, the easiest game of the group stage. The game however ends in a 0-0 draw, with Wayne Rooney shouting at the England fans afterwards for booing the team due to the poor result. The result left England needing a win to qualify. The World Cup so far had been a disaster. Then came the Slovenia game, the all-important decider. A Jermain Defoe goal led England to a 1-0 victory and into the second round. England fans, although disappointed that the group stages were so poor, were generally relieved at progressing to the second round.
The following round of games however proved to make England even more pessimistic. The second round pitted them against Germany after they won their group, and meant that it would be a battle between the two old rivals to get to the quarterfinals. The game was a disaster for England. A 4-1 defeat by an efficient, skillful and well organised German side meant England exited the World Cup at just the second round stage. The disappointment of the World Cup was a surprise to many England fans and suddenly many calls appeared for a complete renovation of English football.
Fabio Capello and his squad had managed to undo everything they had done so well in the qualifiers. The nation had its high hopes dashed and the general feeling around the nation was that of being let down by the squad. All the skill, talent, organisation and teamwork that had been seen from England during the qualifiers had seemingly just disappeared.
(Original Story by James Willis on www.sportshaze.com)
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