With Costa Rica’s shock 1-0 victory over Italy, England has been eliminated from the World Cup. The gloomy postmortem has begun, but team manager Roy Hodgson is not resigning.
The English way to lose at football is with drama, and as much delirious hubris as a 90-minute game, plus extra time and penalties—in short, a total national nervous breakdown—can encompass. Add dark irony, or tears, or should-have-beens. The nation, as one, typically cannot believe the referee didn’t award that free kick at that key moment. Oh no, descend millions of heads in hands…it’s gone to penalty shootout.
We do not—national pride and all that—crash out of the World Cup meekly, having lost two matches, and wind up humiliatingly eliminated not as a result of those two matches but because of the shock success of another team.
But that is football-mad England’s sad, dispiriting tale of World Cup 2014: We leave the competition not with a bang but a whimper, after Costa Rica’s surprise 1-0 victory over Italy in Group D on Friday. We are still down to play Costa Rica on Tuesday, but the result is inconsequential. At least the Costa Ricans’ place in the last 16 is thoroughly, hearteningly deserved: Their games against Uruguay and Italy have shown how seriously they should be taken as giant-slayers, and contenders. England could learn a lot from them.
“The World Cup for me would have been a better place with England in it, but you have to earn the right to stay in a tournament. Unfortunately for us, we have not done that, former captain Rio Ferdinand told the BBC.
The fact that the United States remains in the competition is especially galling: Football is our game. The national refrain Friday night is an all-round “This wasn’t supposed to happen.”
An anti-climactic end is not the World Cup storyline that English fans anticipated. It’s not that, as a country, England is bullish enough to expect victory. Part of the football bug in England is the tantalizing, almost-alien prospect of winning big, burnished by years of failure and if-onlys. The notion of winning has a typically English mordancy attached to it. The willing masochism of being an England supporter is innate.
Observe the lyrics of “Three Lions,” the laddishly-chanted song originally released in 1996 for that year’s European Championship: “Thirty years of hurt / Never stopped me dreaming.” Everything in England’s football culture is still wired to the elation around our victory in the 1966 World Cup. The yearning of the song is in the gap it evokes between belief and reality, hope against hope: the pain and glory of the national game.
Given the length of time elapsed between 1966 and now, the English football fan’s relationship with the national team is best encapsulated as a long, crisis-strewn marriage, without the benefit of couples counseling and with the certainty that crisis follows crisis. But it is impossible to walk away.
England, especially at moments like the World Cup, is football-obsessed; town and city centers during major competitions are a blurry mass of beer-drinkers draped in St. George’s flags. If a goal is scored, the streets reverberate with cheers and honking horns. And when we lose, well…then we express the depth of our misery with either the sober English way of looking down and being gloomy, or—fueled by furious glugging of lager—fighting in the street.
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SOURCE: The Daily Beast