Perhaps the most revealing reason as to England’s failure to go beyond the second round in South Africa this summer came not from the performances on the pitch, nor from the chalkboard of Fabio Capello. Instead it can be found in the way many English football followers reacted to Spain’s inevitable march to the final.
As we all know, Spain’s trajectory to the final encompassed four consecutive 1-0 victories – defeating Portugal, Paraguay and Germany before proving out of reach of the Netherland’s physicality in the final. The low-scoring nature of the games however belies the captivating way Spain set out to play.
Their football at times was metronomic, an encapsulating tiki
Instead of appreciating the sublime first touch, the accuracy of the passing and the ruthless efficiency which characterised the Spaniards’ game, many football fans in this country derided their football as boring.
By dominating possession in midfield, we argued, Spain sucked all life, all emotion, out of their games. True, we could appreciate the majesty of their technique and the asphyxiating way they controlled matches and their evident superiority to all competitors, but weren’t they just that bit boring?
Fast forward to Tuesday evening as England stumble impotently around the penalty area, treating the ball with all the care that a virginal teenager does a tricky bra strap. A lack of creativity was obvious. And yet again – have not we heard all this before? – long before the end long, ‘Hollywood’ passes were being launched towards the head of Kevin Davies. Is there anything more quintessentially English than that?
This time we didn’t get lucky. The ball didn’t break loose and wasn’t thrashed into the net. This time we were left to rue the rigid organisation of Montenegro. Had we the capability, the requisite attitude, to be that little bit more patient, that bit more composed with possession in midfield, then maybe the decisive goal would have been ours.
As it is, England as a footballing culture remains far too impatient. We crave penalty area action and even merely adequate international defences such as Algeria’s and Montenegro’s have learned to deal with it. Now is the time to eschew that approach in favour of something that little bit more cerebral, no matter how ‘boring’ it may seem.