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Sunday, June 27, 2010
What went wrong: The painful recap


England
David James, why are you smiling?

Bennett: Davies, when did you get a feeling it was all about to go very wrong? For me, it was when I realized I am starting to warm up to the tactical flexibility of Jogi Low's boy-band pantsuit. How constrained Fabio Capello looked in his Marks & Spencer garb in comparison. My sense of unease was reinforced when England captain Steven Gerrard forced out a burp during the coin toss. The lad clearly was not up for it.

Davies: Weirdly, I was watching at Soho House West Hollywood (I'm dead fancy), and I was sitting with a bunch of guys from Marks & Spencer visiting the U.S. on a fact-finding mission. So perhaps I was just sucking up when I told them how good Fabio looked in his suit. But I do think he looked better than Jogi and his friend from "Zoolander." I knew it was all going wrong when we couldn't get the TV channel changed to ESPN before kickoff and had to watch Miley Cyrus in concert. The Gerrard indigestion theory? I love it. Explains a lot. I thought that perhaps that was Stevie G's identical twin brother who plays for his pub team.

Bennett: What went wrong? This was meant to be our year: It was winter in Africa. We love the cold. Capello was a ruthless tactical genius. Fused to our blood-and-thunder game, there could be no stopping us. Some writers we know even mounted a painstaking investigation into the biology (or was it physics, Davies?) of the turf to explain why the springy stuff they play on in South Africa would play right into England's hands. In doing so, we ignored what really matters: Our players, their absence of heart and their brittle confidence. And we were found lacking in all departments. German hero Thomas Muller was asked in his postmatch news conference whether his team always knew it would win, and he grinned as he responded without missing a beat, "We are Germany. We are a tournament team." Implicit in his grin was the corollary. "You are England. Middling soccer fodder."

Davies: Middling?! That is way too positive. There is nothing positive to write about that England game. Nothing positive to feel. I feel only marginally more numb than I did after each one of England's games. It was a terrible performance, but it was also another terrible performance in a long line of terrible performances. This was not 1990. It was not even as good as 2006, which was no better than blah; or 2002, which looks vintage compared with 2010; or 1998, which had the explosion onto the scene of Michael Owen and the promise of a "Golden Generation." It was not as good as '86, or even '82 when we failed to get out of the second group stage (but never lost). It was worse than '70; it might even have been worse than '58 and '50. Oh my Good Gourcuff. This could have been England's worst World Cup performance ever.

Bennett: What now for Don Fabio? I thought Bob Bradley was a bad coach because whatever he says to his team before a match apparently makes the players lope onto the field intent on leaking a goal. But Capello at England has been worse. His discipline has been lost in translation and his tactical savvy drowned by his commitment to the 4-4-2, which left England narrow, slow and bereft. The sad thing is this: Just when you completed your "My Fair Lady" education and I mastered the art of saying his first name correctly, he will be gone. Who will replace him? I do not know. I just pray it is one of these three, and have submitted this short list on behalf of OTB to the powers that be at the English FA:

• Diego Maradona
• Phil Jackson
• Anyone but Harry Redknapp

Last thoughts before I go lie down in a dark room with an ice pack on my aching head, and attempt to dream of England's Jack Rodwell powering the Three Lions to victory at the Maracana in 2014:

1. Don't mess with the Boateng brothers.
2. If Mick Jagger drags his corpsey self to cheer for your team, have him escorted from the premises immediately. The dude is toxic. Like football's Jonah.
3. I always said that a young, inexperienced squad could go deep into this tournament if it remained disciplined and egoless. In my dreams, I hoped it would be the U.S. I had no idea it would be Germany.

Davies: I need therapy.

I need positives.

I'm scrambling here. I need to get this out.

Really scrambling for positives. Here's what we can take out of England's 2010 performance at the World Cup of WiffleSoccerParity:

Capello looked good in his Marks & Spencer suit.
But to be clear, I have not taken any gift coupons from my new mates.

We have seen the last of this "Golden Generation" England team.
Our Euro 2012 campaign will see an infusion of new blood. Michael Dawson, Micah Richards, Michael Mancienne, Adam Johnson, Theo Walcott to name a few possibilities. We need more speed in every position.

The national obsession with blaming the manager is exhausted.
I think it is now clear for everyone to see -- it's the players (and their inability to re-create their club form at national level, whatever the reason) who are to blame. Some English journalists can bang on as much as they want about Darren Bent and Walcott being left at home. Or that Don Fabio should have played Gerrard behind Wayne Rooney. But none of that would have made any difference. Let Capello fulfill his contract by building a new team from the ground up.

We did beat Australia on Sunday at cricket.
And less than two years ago, our cricket team was a disaster.

Goal-line technology will be introduced for the 2014 World Cup.
It is inevitable. Sunday's terrible non-goal call did not necessarily change who won the game. But it did change the result. And it would have been a much better game of football had it been correctly given. And now I just saw the ridiculous offside non-call in the Argentina-Mexico game. Lionel Messi was actually the last player, in advance of the goalie and the last defender. Ridiculous.

The English FA will look hard at the German system.
The winter break. The youth system. The domestic league. The team's preparation for the finals. All worth looking at. England played three international friendlies all year in preparation for this tournament.

Several England players will be very well rested for the Premier League season.
Joe Hart, Stephen Warnock, Dawson, Michael Carrick -- didn't play. Ledley King, Peter Crouch and Aaron Lennon (all Tottenham) -- barely played.

Jose Mourinho will save a lot of Real Madrid's money.
By not buying any overvalued English players. Or at least buying them at discount rates. Only Frank Lampard might still catch his fancy. He was England's best player Sunday. And Mourinho knows what he can do over a season.

Ian Darke, Martin Tyler and Steve McManaman have been excellent.
England's greatest contribution to the World Cup. Tyler has been as good as we expected. Darke and McManaman have been revelations.

I can't think of any more.

Negatives?

Almost the entire England squad.
I will give Dawson and Hart a break. They never got a chance and look good for the future. Carrick and Warnock also never played, but perhaps thankfully in that case. So there are just 19 negatives. Plus the English FA. I have no faith in its ability to learn anything from this very, very poor World Cup in every respect.

The entire English system.
Too many games. Too few young players getting opportunities in domestic games or good enough to get opportunities in domestic games.

The entire English media.
Fire the manager, don't blame the players, get a new manager, change the tactics, don't change the system, don't blame the players, fire the manager, don't blame the players, get a new manager ... rinse and repeat.

England.
Americans will never completely understand how crap it is, most of the time, to be English. We might have cute accents and be good at cocktail parties. But we are mostly losers.

Rog, I can't do this anymore -- I'm going to play golf. Badly.