Saturday, 19 June 2010

Shadenfreude: World Cup 2010 (6)

One of the joys of the World Cup is being able to take pleasure in the misfortunes of others. The Germans have a great word for this, Schadenfreude (no, he isn’t a one of their midfielders) and the last couple of days have provided plenty of opportunities to indulge in it.

First up the Spanish, one of the favoured sides in the competition and current European champions, who were humbled by Switzerland. The 1-0 victory to the Swiss was the first real shock of the tournament. There is some suggestion that the Spanish failure to score was down to their star striker Fernando Torres having had a short haircut, thus depriving him of his prowess just like Samson.

Then the French were humiliated by the Mexicans and are on the verge of an early trip home after garnering only one point from their first two games. Not so surprising given that France is managed by Raymond Domenech, who won’t pick players born under the Scorpio star sign because they are distrustful! The French are getting all they deserve having robbed the Irish of a place in the Finals through a blatant act of cheating; Thierry Henry’s clear handball leading to a goal during extra time in the playoff. (see previous blog)

Yesterday afternoon afforded the pleasure of seeing Germany beaten by Serbia. The Germans started the Finals with a clinical destruction of Australia and many pundits were flagging them up as genuine contenders. That was before the referee stepped in and sent off Germany’s striker early in the match against Serbia. The Serbian victory over Germany  was good news for England who could potentially meet Germany in the next round of the competition.

The trouble with Shadenfreude is that it is a game that everyone can play and at the moment there will be football fans across the globe rubbing their hands with glee at the disaster that is England’s World Cup campaign. The first match against the USA began so well, with an early strike from England’s captain Gerrard giving them the lead. Unfortunately, the curse of the England goalkeeper then struck, Robert Green making a terrible error to concede from a weak long range shot. From then on England offered little to threaten the draw and the game ended in disappointment.

Never mind, the USA were seen as England’s toughest opponents in the group stage, so plenty of time to put things right against Algeria, one of the tournament’s weakest sides. Last night was to be the moment when England set the competition alight with a dazzling display, dismissing the Algerians and building momentum towards the knockout rounds.

Eng Alg The problem is that no one told the Algerians that they weren’t supposed to be able to kick a football and they gave a good demonstration of a solid, competent, well organised team; even if they did lack a decent forward capable of scoring. If only I could say that about England. I’d have settled for solid, competent and well organised because as the game unfolded it became clear that England’s finest had forgotten how to move, pass, control, tackle, shoot or head the ball. There was not one aspect of the game in which England demonstrated a measure of competence. The body language between the players spoke of a team shorn of confidence in their own abilities and the tactics of their manager.

The England squad is packed full of some of the best paid players in the tournament; multi millionaires earning more in a week than many of their opponents would earn in a year. Yet, some of the richest and supposedly most skilful players produced some of the worst performances of the World Cup so far. There is one game left against Slovenia to resurrect the England campaign and on the evidence so far I am not optimistic.

The title of this post is the German word Shadenfreude, but perhaps a better word to sum up England’s build up and participation in the World Cup would be that little Greek word Hubris: an excess of ambition, pride and arrogance, ultimately leading to the transgressor's ruin.

Update: For those who feel that prayer is now the only hope for England, you might want to consider Nick Baines' blog here and here.

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