Why You Shouldn’t be Surprised When England Lose

2016 06 27 england iceland euro

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.

2016 06 27 england crest

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:

  • The Premier League is too fast-paced and physically demanding
  • There’s no winter break, so players can’t recuperate properly
  • There are too many foreigners playing in the Premier League, so English players don’t get a chance to develop
  • Highly paid players are more devoted to their clubs than to England
  • The youth team coaching isn’t good enough, so players don’t reach their full potential
  • Previous coaches, like Fabio Capello, were too strict or didn’t understand English culture or communicate with their players
  • English players typically play their best in cold weather; they can’t win in the heat.
  • They’re just so unlucky, with inevitable pre-tournament injuries
  • Penalties! They’re a crapshoot!
  • The English media are too hard on players, who then crack under the pressure of carrying a nation’s weight on their shoulders
  • Wives and girlfriends coming along to tournaments distract the players

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.

Think Portugal.

In other words: pretty good, but not absolutely top-tier.

Let’s look at their Fifa world rankings since 1993:

2016 06 27 england fifa ranking

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:

2016 06 27 brazil fifa ranking

Germany (average ranking: five) and Italy (average ranking: seven) have won four times each. This is what their rankings look like:

2016 06 27 germany fifa ranking

2016 06 27 italy fifa ranking

Portugal, which have an average ranking of 11, are much more like England:

2016 06 27 portugal fifa rankings

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.


On England and the World Cup

Snips from “A Soccer Empire, Deeply Confused,” David Winner‘s contribution to the New York Times‘s feature on the World Cup and national playing styles:

Soccer has long been a bastion of a peculiarly 19th-century conception of Englishness the nation seems reluctant to relinquish. The game was born during the era of empire when the country’s elite public schools adapted earlier forms of violent folk football for the purpose of education.

Typical rustic folk games involved hundreds of drunken men from rival villages rampaging through streets and fields, trying to drive, say, a casket of beer (the proto-ball) into the crypt of a church (the proto-goal). The schools distilled such testosterone-fuelled rituals into new formats involving smaller teams, sober boys and sodden leather balls. Codified by the Football Association and later disseminated to the world, this style of soccer was never the so-called beautiful game; the original purpose of educators was to instill manly and martial virtues into future imperial soldiers and administrators.


Just as adapting to their diminished, post-imperial status in international affairs has been a struggle, so the English are taking a long time to abandon the fantasy that, having invented the game, they should still expect to win the World Cup.

The truth — as everyone elsewhere noticed long ago — is that the nation has only once gone further than the quarterfinals of a major tournament played abroad (it reached the semifinals in Italy in 1990).

English soccer confusion, delusion and cloying nostalgia have become tedious. The time for the national team to adopt a bit of modesty and modernity — and to move to embrace change — is long overdue.

Read the whole thing.

(Via Amy Lawrence.)


More on World Cup bids and the cancelled England-Thailand friendly

You might recall my December post about World Cup bids, England, and the cancelled Thailand friendly. Today’s Bangkok Post reports:

Football Association of Thailand president Worawi Makudi was hit by another hammer blow yesterday when former English Football Association chairman David Triesman accused him and three other Fifa executive members of asking for favours in return for their votes for England’s 2018 World Cup bid.

Triesman was giving evidence to a British parliamentary inquiry into the reasons why England failed in its bid to secure the finals which were awarded to Russia in December.

Triesman alleged that Worawi demanded to be awarded broadcasting rights of a possible friendly match between England and Thailand in Bangkok this year.

(All emphasis mine.)

Sports Thailand

Could ASEAN bid for the World Cup? (cross posted to Siam Voices)

Note: This post originally appeared on Siam Voices, a collaborative Thailand blog at Asian Correspondent. I have added an update.


Yesterday’s Bangkok Post:

Asean kicks around plan to host World Cup

Asean foreign ministers have agreed to propose to the grouping’s leadership that the region host the World Cup in 2030 as a group, diplomatic sources say.

The foreign ministers, who are meeting in Lombok, Indonesia, would submit a formal and detailed plan for approval by the Asean leaders when they meet in Jakarta on May 7 and 8.

The idea of the region jointly hosting the World Cup in 2030 was first proposed by Malaysia at the annual foreign ministers’ meeting in Hanoi in July last year.

Yesterdays’s Jakarta Post:

2030 World Cup in ASEAN? Why not?

In an attempt to boost integration among its people, ASEAN will propose to FIFA that the 10 member countries jointly host the 2030 soccer World Cup.

Foreign ministers of the ASEAN countries — Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, Singapore, Brunei, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos and Myanmar — gathered here Sunday for a retreat meeting agreed to table their candidacy this year to jointly host the world’s biggest sporting event.

As we know, the 2014 World Cup will be in Brazil. Then it’s Russia for 2018 and Qatar in 2022.

A few thoughts:

1. Southeast Asia is geographically large, and — as touched upon in the Jakarta Post item — travel between countries as far-flung as Indonesia, Brunei, and the Philippines presents logistical challenges.

2. If a bid were to materialize, would the FIFA Executive Committee be put off by political instability here in Thailand — a country at the heart of the region, and perhaps ASEAN’s biggest tourist draw? Or perhaps tensions will have eased by then? What about Myanmar, as a member of ASEAN? Would Myanmar host matches?

3. Infrastructure in Southeast Asia is lacking. The Bangkok Post story says: “By the time the international football association, Fifa, decides on the 2030 World Cup host, all Asean capitals are expected to have built international standard sports and football stadiums, said one of the sources.”

I would be interested to hear more about these plans.

4. Speaking of FIFA’s executive committee, what about the fuss over Thailand’s Worawi Makudi and England’s failed World Cup bid? Would England support an ASEAN bid, given Thailand’s failure to deliver for the Three Lions?

5. This is not the first time the idea has been floated, as the Bangkok Post piece notes. The Post ran this shot Oct., 2009 item: “Asean eyeing to host World Cup.”

6. Interestingly, there is already an ASEAN 2030 Facebook group that has been “liked” by 478 people. It contains this interesting passage, which seems to encapsulate the “why not?” spirit that would presumably need to be part of any potential bid:

The astounding decision last week by FIFA, the world’s football federation, to award Russia and Qatar to host the World Cup in 2018 and 2022 respectively gives hope that ASEAN should seriously aspire, as a Community, to host this quadrennial sporting event, with the largest worldwide audience, in 2030.

Image: ASEAN 2030 Facebook page.

UPDATE: January 18 — The Bangkok Post has a new story today: “Worawi: Joint Asean World Cup unlikely.” There’s also this piece, “A kicking idea: using sport to forge an Asean identity.”

Sports Thailand

England-Thailand friendly officially cancelled


The backstory is here. From today’s Bangkok Post:

The England football team has confirmed the cancellation of its friendly match against Thailand in Bangkok in June.

It was to have been the first time the England national side had played in Thailand.

The English Football Association cited scheduling concerns for the withdrawal, but the British press has speculated it is retribution for Thailand’s football boss breaking a “promise” to back England’s bid to host the 2018 World Cup.

The Thailand-England fixture would likely have proved a highly lucrative event and was supposedly agreed in return for the support of Worawi Makudi, president of the Football Association of Thailand (FAT).

But Mr Worawi, also a Fifa executive member, chose another candidate at a Fifa committee members vote on Dec 2.

FAT secretary-general Ong-arj Kosinkha confirmed yesterday the English FA had informed Mr Worawi of the cancellation in a letter dated Dec 22.

In the letter, English FA general-secretary Alex Horne said: “I have been informed by [English FA chairman] Sir David Richards that the England national team is not ready to come to Thailand according to the programme that was set earlier.”

(Emphasis mine.)

Sports Thailand

World Cup bids, England, and the (apparently) cancelled Thailand friendly


As you’re probably aware, the 2018 and 2022 World Cup host countries were announced on Thursday. Russia won 2018 and Qatar was awarded 2022. There are many fascinating issues to discuss, but given the focus of this blog, I wanted to zero in on one interesting element: the Thailand connection.

Some background: Prior to the vote, much of the Western European media echoed the notion that the front runners for 2018 were Spain/Portugal (home of the scintillating world champions, Spain) and England (home of robust infrastructure and the world’s most popular domestic league).

But Russia — considered by some to be an outsider — won, of course. This may not have been as big an upset as it seems, but it was still surprising to many observers. It’s worth noting that, as I understand it, many within Russia considered their bid to be the strongest all along, chiefly because the World Cup has never been held in Eastern Europe.

The process by which World Cup bids are awarded has been the subject of increasing scrutiny in recent years. Here’s how it works: A 24-man panel — the FIFA executive committee — decides, behind closed doors, which countries will be allowed to host the world’s most-watched sporting event.

Votes are secret, and are cast in an exhaustive ballot system, with several rounds of voting until a winner receives a majority. There is no official transparency, though reports usually emerge, afterward, regarding who voted for which countries.

Allegations of corruption — the idea that votes are bought — have been raised in the past. And significantly, just before this year’s winners were announced, the BBC program Panorama ran a show called “Fifa’s dirty secrets.” So the selection process is murky, confusing, and said to be tainted by back room deals.

On to the Siam connection: Thailand’s Worawi Makudi sits on the FIFA Executive Committee. Competing countries are often thought to secure votes by courting — legally — the loyalty of individual committee members.

In May, England’s Football Association (the FA) announced that the national side would be playing a friendly here in Bangkok in June 2011 — a first-ever meeting between England and Thailand. This remarkable match, combined with the fact that British coaches Peter Reid and now Bryan Robson have coached the Thai national team, have been seen as efforts to curry favor with Thailand in order to secure the vote for England’s 2018 bid.

The England-Thailand game would have drawn a large crowd given the great popularity of the English Premier League among Thai fans and would have presumably been commercially lucrative. But it would have exacted a physical toll on the Three Lions’ players given the long flights in each direction.

So what happened on Thursday?

England finished dead last, receiving just two votes, one of which came from their own representative. The other vote? It didn’t come from Thailand’s Worawi. It’s unclear who he voted for, but it apparently wasn’t England.

The fallout: The Telegraph reported yesterday that England has cancelled the Thailand friendly. Mind you, the story says the FA had received indications some time ago that Worawi wouldn’t be voting for England, so one wonders how much of a shock this really was.

In addition, a word of warning regarding sources: The Telegraph story says that “the FA intends to cancel the fixture,” but there is so far no news of this on the the FA Web site. However, the match is not listed on the fixtures page, though this may be due to the fact that it is — was? — a friendly, not a competitive game.

The Bangkok Post also ran a short piece about the possibly cancelled fixture, but it appears to be merely a summary of the Telegraph story.

For the record, I am not suggesting that anything inappropriate occurred between England’s FA and Thailand or Worawi. But I think the episode illustrates the kind of efforts that FAs undertake to try to secure the backing of executive committee members — and just how tricky and unpredictable the voting process can be.

Issues for another post: Qatar‘s winning 2022 bid (the country’s population is estimated at 840,000, and it covers an area about the size of Connecticut); the prospect of a winter World Cup and/or cooled, open-aired, “carbon neutral” stadiums (don’t miss the artist renderings) to beat the heat; and the U.S.’s failed 2022 bid.


My very own vuvuzela

Quick note to say this: I am now the proud owner of my very own vuvuzela — the much maligned horn, you’ll recall, that I mentioned in my World Cup roundup last month.

But this isn’t just any vuvuzela, mind you.

My very own vuvuzela

My pal M picked it up for me at the World Cup — you can see that the instrument bears the colors of the South African flag. I am very, very grateful, and the horn is now hanging in a place of honor on my office wall.

And indeed, when tooted, the thing produces an immense buzzing sound, making the immediate area sound not unlike like the inside of a bee’s hive. I can only imagine what a stadium full of droning vuvuzelas must sound like.

It’s another four years until the next World Cup, of course, but the English Premier League season starts again next weekend. Pity the folks who live in my neighborhood…


Looking back at the 2010 World Cup

I realize that I’m nearly a week late with this, but following Spain’s 1-0 win over the Netherlands on Sunday, I wanted to share a few brief notes given my previous posts on the World Cup.

Spain: the tournament’s best team

The final match was ugly, but Spain deserved to win — and take home their first-ever World Cup title. They had the most skill, the most cohesion as a team, and superior tactics. And don’t be too perturbed that the final match featured relatively ugly soccer. After all, World Cup finals are often less-than-scintillating affairs.

Oh, and what can you say about pulpo Paul, aka Paul the octopus?


A look back at my predictions

My predictions were, well…so-so. I thought Brazil, Italy, or Germany — one of the titans of the game — would win. I was wrong. Very wrong.

Brazil were let down by indiscipline, though the team will be odds-on favorites to win the next World Cup, which will be held in their homeland. The Italian players were just too old. Germany were wonderful to watch, particularly in their back-to-back 4-goal wins over England and Argentina, but they ultimately fell short.

On the plus side, I did predict correctly that Argentina’s Diego Maradona would fail to apply the best tactics. And I hinted at the difficulties England could face.

On the goalkeepers

On the goalkeepers: Italy’s Buffon went out with an injury. Lloris, of France, didn’t get a chance to shine because his team imploded. Julio Cesar was at fault for Holland’s goal. And we all know what happened to England’s Rob Green.

But Iker Casillas — Spain’s number one — came up big in the final, when it really mattered. And his post-match interview with his girlfriend, TV journalist Sara Carbonero, made for a memorable moment (embedded below):

On the Jabulani

Goalkeepers — and outfield players — were quick to blame the new Adidas Jabulani ball, which many people said dipped and served dramatically. Indeed, the ball did appear to behave strangely, but I will reserve judgment on this topic until I get my own hands and feet on the model.

On the vuvuzela

The sound of the vuvzelas — the plastic horns that, when played in unison, produced an all-enveloping buzzing sound — will always be associated with the tournament. I wasn’t as bothered by the horns as other people were. And I must say that I have been amused by the vuvuzela-themed spin-offs, like (“Listen to the Vuvuzela Radio”), the vuvuzela iPhone app, and the vuvuzela on Twitter.

On FIFA and technology

How long can FIFA resist calls for video technology to be used in the game? I like that the game’s rules have changed so little over the years. And I wouldn’t want any new technology to slow the game down. (Though some might argue that play acting and diving already does that.)

But something as simple as goal line technology — whether it’s a chip in the ball or cameras to be used on the goal line — seem completely reasonable. As we saw with England’s ghost goal against Germany, there’s something wrong when everyone in the stadium — except the four officials on the field — can see that the ball has crossed the line.

On my favorite moment

There can be only one. Landon Donovan’s injury time goal (embedded below) to lift the U.S. over Algeria.

And finally, for an excellent round-up of World Cup images, see this Big Picture collection.


World Cup: USA beats Algeria in injury time


I’ve been busy — and won’t be blogging much in the days to come — but given my previous posts, I felt compelled to comment on yesterday’s breathtaking U.S. win over Algeria in injury time. A few thoughts.

  1. I watched the game with some friends at an English pub here in Bangkok. The England-Slovenia game was on in the main bar area, and the US-Algeria game was on in a separate room.

    I cannot describe the anguish I felt when England went a goal up, and when the US continued to miss chance after chance after chance. If England had won, and the US had tied or lost, our World Cup campaign would have been over. To make matters worse, another seemingly good goal was called back that should not have been called back.

    And then, when all seemed lost, finally — finally — in injury time, when I must admit I thought we were finished, Landon Donovan slotted home:

  2. Speaking of which, Donovan has really shown his quality in this tournament. To get down the length of the pitch and be there, at the right moment, after playing hard for 90 minutes, and then to have the focus to score a goal like that…well, it’s just top-notch. Michael Bradley has also been exceptional in midfield. As so has Tim Howard in goal. Clint Dempsey has been very good going forward, as well.
  3. In terms of US soccer successes, the only other American victory that I can compare this to in my lifetime ((Yes, the U.S. team made it to the quarterfinals in 2002, but yesterday’s win was more dramatic.)) was Paul Caliguiri’s goal against Trinidad and Tobago in 1989. The U.S. qualified for the 1990 World Cup — the U.S.’s first World Cup appearance since 1950 — because of that long-distance effort.

    When I watched that game, as a 14-year-old, I was simply astounded by the outcome. And I was similarly astounded — and so, so happy — when the U.S. team won last night.

  4. And finally, let me ask you this: When the World Cup draw was announced many months ago, who would have predicted that Group C would end up like this?

Up next: Ghana on Saturday…


Following the World Cup on Twitter

I have a created a Twitter list of some 43 (and growing) World Cup related feeds. This includes news outlets, players, pundits, journalists, bloggers, and other commentators.

A few of my favorite feeds are @henrywinter, @runofplay, @FourFourTwo, and @Zonal_Marking of the exceptional Zonal Marking site. ((@Zonal_Marking also has a Twitter list of 105 football journalists.))