So, the World Cup starts tomorrow. You may have heard. It’s been a long four years since the disappointment in Germany, though England’s abject failure to qualify for Euro 2008 has made the wait for the forthcoming South African extravanganza even more tortuous than usual.
Speaking of torture, watching England in any competitive match has tended in the past to be a white-knuckle rollercoaster ride of anticipation, fear, celebration and despair. Under Fabio Capello’s stewardship, however, the qualification process for this tournament became almost boringly easy at times. For once it seemed that the English team’s fate was truly in its own hands. The fear of failure had vanished from the players, we were playing some neat football, and it seemed that the tactical errors of past campaigns had been consigned to the scrap heap.
However, somebody somewhere obviously realised that watching England isn’t meant to be like this, and so since the moment of qualification, when our World Cup chances were being talked up and we seemed like semi-serious contenders to be in with a chance of actually winning the thing, we’ve been looking increasingly dodgy. The run of injuries to key players hasn’t helped (how many other people were silently praying like me every time Rooney got tackled during the last few weeks of the season?), but something has gone wrong in terms of the confidence that the side was exuding from every pore during qualification. All of a sudden we look nervy again. Simple passes are going astray. The final ball is rubbish. Michael Carrick is in the squad.
And yet, just before the World Cup begins I can’t help but feel optimistic. I always do before major tournaments, and it’s great to see us in one again after the barren desert of emptiness that was Euro 2008, the first time I wasn’t really bothered about international football since I entered my teens. I love the atmosphere of these occasions – going to a pub with friends to see the England games, the massive cheers and general mayhem when we score, the moments of frozen terror etched on everyone’s faces during penalty shootouts or near-misses by the opposition, the sudden outburst of patriotism with all the flags and the shirts and the memorabilia. Of course, it always ends badly, but right now there’s a spring in people’s steps, a sense of anticipation in the air, and this year, with all the different ways to watch and listen to the matches now that the Internet is so ever-present in every walk of life, there’s absolutely no excuse not to revel in the next month and embrace what could and should be an absolutely thrilling World Cup.
“Arise, Sir Fabio?” Maybe… just maybe. It has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?