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.
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:
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.
File under: Brushes with iconic soccer players in Jakarta. Related post from May: Meeting Fulham and Manchester United great Edwin van der Sar in the Jakarta airport.
I’m back after an excellent holiday break.
In the week or so I spent offline with friends and family, I had plenty of time to daydream, catch up on sleep, read books — books!* — and consider all the excellent things that happened during 2014.
And I realized: I forgot to tell you, dear friends, about how I met** Juventus and Italy great Giorgio Chiellini*** in Jakarta in August.
Yes, that’s the two of us in the photo above.
I was in Indonesia working on stories and, one afternoon, visited a five star hotel in Jakarta.
And who did I see? Yes, it was Chielini, the powerful Juventus and Italy defender.
Yes, the player who Luis Suarez bit during the World Cup last summer:
It was remarkable to see him in person.
And the answer is: No, I did not pose for the photo — like this one — as if I were biting him.
*More to come soon on a remarkable novel I read during my down time.
**By “met,” I mean that I approached him as he strode across the hotel lobby, gestured to my phone, and then stood next to him for approximately five seconds as we had our photo taken together. After which he walked away. It was not a lengthy interaction.
Just very briefly: Yes, we were at the game here in Singapore last night to see Neymar single handedly demolish Japan and overtake Bebeto to become the Selecao’s fifth leading scorer of all time — at the age of just 22:
Neymar scored all four goals as Brazil eased to a 4-0 friendly win over Japan in Singapore.
The 22-year-old has now taken his tally to 40 in 58 internationals.
He rounded Japan goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima and slotted in for the first, before adding a second from a pass by Liverpool’s Philippe Coutinho.
The Barcelona forward, who helped Brazil to victory against Argentina on Saturday, swept in to make it 3-0 and headed the fourth from Kaka’s cross.
Neymar also went close with a free-kick that hit the post, while Kaka’s header was pushed on to the bar by Kawashima.
The pitch was poor.
Japan were in disarray.
The rest of the Brazil side were less than scintilating.
But Neymar. His quickness, his control, his creativity, his pinpoint finishing.
Yes, he’s that good.
Here’s a video I shot of his third goal, though it’s not great footage:
Neymar bags his third, a real poacher's goal, against Japan here in Singapore tonight. Brazil 4-0 Japan.
And here’s a video of all his goals: