Denying your feelings is no protection against disappointment

England are still in the World Cup – even if it is by the skin of their teeth.

When the team missed the middle attempt in the five-penalty shootout against Colombia I got that familiar, sinking feeling. I defy any English fan to say that he or she didn’t think the same.

It has been drummed into us so many times that England simply don’t win shootouts at major tournaments that any fan would be forgiven for thinking the worst.

But the pessimists (like me) were wrong and, in a sense, I’m doubly delighted.

 

 

 

First, winning was great, of course, but I can’t help feeling that, secondly, the manner of England’s win may do the team more good than if they had simply won through in the normal 90 minutes.

The fact that Colombia scored in the extra minutes they had helped add by ridiculous protests about the Harry Kane penalty rankled especially. Nice of them to scuff up the penalty spot to ensure Harry didn’t slip when he took it. And how about the “can I rest my head on your chest before nutting your chin” moment?

 

 

It brought back fond-ish memories of the “animals” (Sir Alf Ramsey’s description) of Argentina in the 1966 quarter-final.

 

 

So, although I’d like to add a word of praise for the Colombians, my fingers simply can’t hit the relevant keys. How they kept all 11 players on the pitch is beyond me.

Mind you, a couple of England players did not cover themselves in glory by tumbling over legs that simply weren’t there in the penalty box. Had this happened against England we wouldn’t hear the end of it.

None of this against Sweden please.

A few more thoughts on the Colombia match before I move on to Saturday’s game.

One, what was the idea of putting one of England’s shortest players on the line for the corner that Colombia equalised from? This is not intended as a pop at Trippier who, I think, has been one of England’s stand-out players.

Two, it’s my belief that for the all-important corner the England players were scared of marking too closely in case a Colombian player went down in the box as if poleaxed.

Three, was Dele Alli fully fit? He didn’t look it.

The weather this morning (Wednesday immediately following the Colombia game) was a delight in my part of England, a real “all is right with the world” kind of summer’s day.

Even the shuffle button of favourite songs on my phone seemed to sense it. First up was Lifted by the Lighthouse Family – “we could be lifted” – the night before, we were. Followed by Titanium – “you shoot me down, but I won’t fall” – sums up that late equaliser. And to complete the hat-trick was Time is Tight by Booker T and the MGs – you could say that again.

Hope you didn’t mind me sharing that.

Moving on to Sweden, I still think England lack the ability to break down a sound defence and worry that we rely too much on deadball situations. Can only recall the Lingard effort, but what an effort, from open play.

I feel it is still way too early to mention the thought that England might have a chance of going all the way. In this respect I am reminded of the old 10cc song, I’m Not in Love. The words are those of a man in denial about loving someone. “If I don’t say I love you, I can’t be hurt should you say the feeling isn’t mutual” is my interpretation of the song’s sentiment.

In the song there’s the lyric that goes “I know you know it doesn’t mean that much to me”. Well, I’d like to espouse something similar about England’s World Cup chances, but the reality is it does mean that much to me.

The 30 years of hurt referred to in the Football’s Coming Home song is now 52 years of hurt. When England won the World Cup I was a 14-year-old schoolboy. I thought back in 1966 that in four years’ time (maybe eight at a push) England would win it again. Not for one moment did I think I would be drawing a pension and still waiting for another win.

My youngest son texted me after the Colombia game saying its’ the “best shot we’ve had at it for a while, I reckon”. He was born while England were playing the group matches at Italia 90. Just weeks after his birth we played Germany in the semi-final, only to go out on penalties. In his lifetime we have not come anywhere near as close again.

 

 

Fingers, toes and everything else crossed that will change against Sweden on Saturday.

Speaking of crossing everything I plan to follow a superstition. Only once so far in this tournament have I sat watching in the local pub wearing my replica England shirt*. It was against Belgium. It’s staying in the wash.

I’m sure many readers will have seen the soccer coincidences doing the rounds. But, in case they have passed you by, I will repeat them.

In 1966…

Real Madrid were European champions;
Manchester City won the league;
Burnley qualified for European competition;
Chelsea finished fifth in the league;
England won the World Cup

All, with the exception of the last one, have been repeated in 2018. Oh well, it’s nice to dream.

 

 

*Speaking of replica kits it was great to see one of the young footballers trapped in the Chiang Rai caves wearing three lions on his football shirt. At the time of writing, those lads still have a way to go before they will see daylight again but, at least we know that, currently, they are safe. The “Lost Boys” story has captured the imagination of the world’s press. I’m sure many nationalities – in addition to Thais – can rightly claim a part of the praise for them being found. But it was nice to hear an English voice on the video clip of when they were discovered. I just hope there are more reasons to be proud to be English just around the corner.

 

 

By Dave Buckley