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Tuesday, June 22, 2010
Questions for Judgment Day


Tuesday, 9 a.m. ET: ESPN Zone, Times Square, New York

My wife had a kid on Sunday. Day 10 of the World Cup. She thoughtfully waited until Brazil had swatted aside the Ivory Coast before looking over to me, bedraggled on the couch, and declaring "Ke nako" (it's time, the official World Cup slogan). The birth of our child brought joy into a world that had been distinctly mirthless since Friday's England-Algeria debacle, a 90-minute spectacle so unfathomably dire that I found myself accidentally cheering for the Desert Foxes at times and was overwhelmed with nostalgia for a return to the good old days of English footy, when Sven-Goran Eriksson was commanding at the helm, the WAGs added depth and seriousness to the news reporting from Germany, and a plethora of insightful autobiographies were released by the team's leaders the moment they came home.

England's failure has had a personal dimension. I began the year with dreams of an England performance so glorious that I could talk my wife into naming our child after the entire squad. The Three Lions' passionate blood-and-thunder game fused with the cold, tactical discipline of the soon-to-be Sir Fabio Capello -- the cup had to be as good as ours. Yes, I had my moments of doubt, but like many new parents, I became swept up in the magic of the opening ceremonies and quickly added Bafana and FIFA to the possible list of names.

Plumbing through the wreckage, I feel as if a postmortem is already necessary. Here are the questions I have in mind ahead of Wednesday's Judgment Day: SoccerWiffleBall Day of Reckoning: The Squeakel.

1. Should the United States stress the blown call?

New fans of the sport, take hope. Yes, Friday's blown call deprived us of the thrill of a swashbuckling Hollywood ending against the Green Dragons (By the way, can we hold a competition for a new U.S. team nickname? "The Yanks" is bona fide rubbish), but the experience will bode well for U.S. soccer in the medium term. Football fandom is best forged in heartache. Ask any Spurs fan. The thrill of a goal is temporary, but the throbbing pain of controversy and injustice stings for decades. When they're experienced on the collective level, little can motivate more people to talk and care about the game and the team. So thank you, Koman Coulibaly. As a referee you are incompetent, but few have done more to aid the development of the game in the U.S.

2. John Terry, the ultimate World Cup patsy?

For the past 12 months, former England captain John Terry has been on a one-man crusade to prove there are indeed new levels of idiot to which a man can descend. One can only imagine his frame of mind as he discussed his plans to undermine Capello's leadership with senior players before running to the news conference and running his mouth off to the world's media. The players-only meeting no doubt sounded something like this.

John Terry: Nothing is over until we decide it is! Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Hell no!
Peter Crouch: Germans?
Frank Lampard: Forget it, he's rolling.
JT: And it ain't over now. 'Cause when the going gets tough … the tough get going. Who's with me? Let's go! Come on! AAAAEEEEEGGGHHHH!! (Terry runs out of the room alone.)

One thing I do not understand about the whole incident: Why was Cockney Bluto allowed to put his lips anywhere near a microphone at an official team news conference in the first place? His appearance must have been OK'd at the highest levels of the English team's bureaucracy. Is Don Fabio already jostling to position blame for the dismal English performance with an eye on how it will be judged for posterity, and if so, was JT framed?

3. Where is captain Stevie Gerrard?

Being named England captain has historically been a poisoned chalice. Terry's attraction to his teammates' lady friends led to his downfall. The injured Rio Ferdinand replaced him but has been reduced to watching the World Cup from home while tweeting (@rioferdy5), "I need sum new music on my ipod, I'm into most music so hit me with some new music I should be getting please." Where has England's third-string captain Steven Gerrard been in all of this? Former captain Terry was left to self-destruct in front of the media. Vice-captain Lampard was given the job of sweeping up the wreckage after the fact. Stevie G. has been about as vociferous as Beaker the Muppet. Does his silence speak volumes about his frame of mind, confidence and leadership?

4. Will the vuvuzelas drown out the boos of England's fans?

I have to believe England will find a way to slum through to the round of 16. Yes, the team appears burned out and joyless. A national Hubris XI. (Which is worse? To be an English or French fan at this World Cup? The Guardian's excellent Fiver column suggested the latter -- because England is actually trying to win.) It won't be pretty against the powerhouse Green Dragons of Slovenia. Indeed, England has been preparing by playing rugby. Expect the English to gut it out. A wobbler off Ivanhoe Heskey's shin or a misdirected header by Crouch, the gormless foal, will give them a win they don't deserve. But lovers of justice should rest easy. England's defense is irreparably slow. It will be bounced out by the quarterfinals.

5. Can the lackluster European performance be written off to tiredness?

The Netherlands aside, the major European teams have sleepwalked through this tournament. Is it the toll of an elite domestic season reinforced by the grueling nature of a Champions League campaign that looks to have worn down Messrs. Rooney, Ribery, Torres, etc.? The argument does not hold up. The Brazilian and Argentine squads are loaded to the gills with players whose bodies have taken a similar pounding (Jonas Gutierrez toughed it out in the English championships, for god sakes), but they appear to have something the European sides lack: a common mission and the clichéd "pride in their shirts." Intangibles clearly more inspirational than bigger contracts, book deals or enhanced image rights.

6. Who will follow Don Fabio and wear the dull gray Savile Row tailoring of the next England coach?

What does a coach do, apart from choose a distinctive signature outfit to sweat through on the sideline? Few jobs ask so much of one individual under conditions of hysterical stress. A great coach must be a tactical genius, psychologist, sports scientist, negotiator, data analyst, master motivator and charismatic PR figurehead who's able to carry the hopes of a nation on his shoulders while the nation's media mine the recesses of his private life for dirt. Something about Don Fabio has been lost in translation for the English team, and he will stumble off confused and humiliated in the wake of this tournament. But fear not. I have been tracking a young, inexperienced coach who might not have been highly regarded ahead of this tournament, but the more I watch him, the more I am convinced he has all the energy and passion this English team lacks. Allow me to introduce you to the next coach of England … Diego Maradona.

Finally, I want to thank all of the OTB readers who have taken the time to tweet me name suggestions for my bambino. Here is the final name list I submitted to my wife, CC'ing FIFA President Sepp Blatter:

1. Shane (after New Zealand's and the Oceania region's top scorer)
2. Diego (after Milito, not Maradona)
3. Michael Davies (legendary football philosopher/poet)
4. CHERUNDOLO (which, according to "My Big Book of Baby Names," is Latin or Greek for faithful, decent, epitome of hardworking)
5. @herculezg (a long shot, but my wife loves the Twitter)

The matter is now out of my hands. My wife and Blatter have six more days to make an official decision. All I care about is that when my son comes of age ahead of the 2030 World Cup, and future England coach Theo Walcott asks him to commit to the English squad, may he follow Jose Torres' example and play for the United States. I am a big believer in Albert Camus' quote that "All I know most surely about morality and obligations I owe to football," and to me, the U.S. footy team represents everything that is good about the game.