Were you shocked the other day when England lost 2-1 to Iceland?
Of course not, because you read my post just a few hours before kickoff.
In about five hours England play Iceland in a Euro 2016 final 16 game. England may not lose this match, but they will almost certainly not win the tournament.
Here’s why you shouldn’t be surprised that the England national team aren’t more successful than they are.
Are you ready?
Here it is:
They’re actually not a global footballing power.
Now, this may come as a surprise, given that the guy who coached the soccer team at your high school had an English accent, as do many of the pundits who commentate on football games on TV. And yes, England is home to world’s most popular league.
In addition, as British people may remind you, England invented the game and in 1966 won the World Cup — though it was at home in England and the team benefited from a dubious refereeing decision.
In the half century since then, however, they have won…not a single title.
The closest they came was making it to the World Cup semi-final in 1990 — a benchmark even the U.S. nearly achieved in 2002, when Gregg Berhalter* would have scored had it not been for a Torsten Frings handball that went unpunished.
But I digress.
Among the factors I have heard people give for England’s failure to win tournaments:
And I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if another reason is added to the list after this tournament: Brexit somehow distracted the players, or sapped the fans of their enthusiasm.
But, as some have pointed out, England only under-achieve if you think they should do better.
I don’t. They do about as well as you could expect.
When you think England, don’t think Brazil, Germany, or Italy.
In other words: pretty good, but not absolutely top-tier.
Let’s look at their Fifa world rankings since 1993:
So, they’re now ranked 11th in the world, and their average ranking since 1993 is ten. That’s pretty good! But it doesn’t make them elite.
Other sides that have won the World Cup once, like England, include France, which won in 1998 and have an average ranking of nine, and Spain, which won in 2010 and has an average ranking of five. Both are better than England.
What about the big boys?
Brazil have won five World Cups. This is what their ranking — which averages out to three over the years — looks like:
Germany (average ranking: five) and Italy (average ranking: seven) have won four times each. This is what their rankings look like:
Portugal, which have an average ranking of 11, are much more like England:
So, again: England don’t underperform. They perform as they always have.
They’re basically Portugal, except they won the World Cup fifty years ago. And they don’t have a Cristiano Ronaldo.
*My own personal footballing claim to fame: In a college game against the University of North Carolina, Gregg Berhalter scored a penalty on me. I dove the right way, guessing the left footer would blast it to my left, and came absolutely nowhere near it.
Book: “Waking Up”
I read a lot of really great books this year, most of which were published prior to 2015.
The one that comes closest to qualifying for this list, however, since it was published in late 2014, is Sam Harris’s Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion.
Harris, a neuroscientist, illustrates that our perception of the world quite literally dictates the quality of our lives. He discusses eastern and western religions, consciousness, the illusion of the self, meditation, gurus, and psychedelic drugs.
“Our minds are all we have,” he writes early on in the book. “They are all we have ever had. And they are all we can offer others.”
Album: “Meamodern Sounds in Country Music”
Again, I’m kind of cheating here. Sturgill Simpson’s “Metamodern Sounds in Country Music” came out in mid-2014. But it’s too good to ignore. I blogged about it back in February.
Unfortunately, it’s not available on Spotify — my current pick for music streaming given Rdio’s demise and my brief but ultimaely ill-fated dalliance with Apple Music — but you can listen to it on Amazon or YouTube.
Movie: “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”
It’s great to have the crew back again.
TV show: “Fargo”
Holy shit, “Fargo.”
Season one was fantastic. And so was season two, which just concluded.
It seems crazy, the idea of replicating, for TV, the setting (mostly) for one of the finest films ever made. But it works. And there’s more to come!
Goal: Messi vs. Athetic Bilbao
Okay, so a goal represents the greatest achievement in the world’s greatest game (except for saving a penalty), and isn’t a piece of media, exactly. But it kind of is, when it’s reproduced. Like it is here. I don’t care.
Save: David De Gea vs. Everton
Again, we have to go back to late 2014, but it’s worth it.
What a year.
I’m, like, nearly a fortnight late in pointing this out, but still: It’s incredible.
You may have seen the news that Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowski recently scored five times in nine minutes against Wolfsburg. This link shows all of the goals in the run of play.
I also found, embedded above and online here, a mesmerizing Vine showing all five stitched together.
Romans come to terms with pronouncing Szczesny. Top voxpopping http://t.co/shoV66zknm
— James Horncastle (@JamesHorncastle) July 25, 2015
This tweet from football writer James Horncastle alerted me to an excellent video in which Roma fans try to pronounce their new Polish goalkeeper’s name.
The video is embedded above and online here.
For the record, here’s how you say his name:
I’m calling it right here, right now.*
Arsenal signing world-class goalkeeper Petr Cech from Chelsea is the move that will lead to their eventual Premier League triumph.
Maybe they won’t win the title this season, for reigning champs Chelsea look too strong. But perhaps next.
Arsenal’s other top goalkeepers, Wojciech Szczęsny and David Ospina, are excellent. But Cech is a step above. He is more consistent than Szczęsny and commands his box better than Ospina.
This is the kind of signing that, along with a strong defensive midfielder, will give Arsenal the defensive fortifications to finally match their attacking prowess.
(*I am fully aware that as an Arsenal supporter and a life-long goalkeeper, this analysis may be colored by my emotions.)
You have got to be kidding me.
Update: Original video is no longer available on YouTube. So I switched it out for a new one. If the one above is yanked, search YouTube for “Messi goal Athletic Bilbao.”
English Premier League sides Arsenal, Everton and Stoke are coming here to Singapore in July for some pre-season exhibition matches.
The video is embedded above and on YouTube here.