Supporting England: the Prototypical Tragedy

The Good News: England was not eliminated through another excruciating round of penalty failures.

The Bad News: We didn’t even manage to earn a penalty shootout.

The consecutive defeats against Italy and Uruguay had pushed England to the brink of elimination; then an upset of the Italians from Costa Rica – supposedly the whipping boys- confirmed that the English tenure at Brazil 2014 will only last for exactly three games. England is, once again, going home early, even by ‘normal’ English standards.

Supporting England continues to be the prototypical tragedy: you know exactly how it would pan out at the end, and what changes is merely the manner of our demise.

Brazil 2014 had been the first World Cup in my memory where the public and the press did not genuinely believe in an England victory. Having said that, most have expected the team to qualify into the knockout stages. This belief intensified after the Uruguayans suffered a surprise defeat against Costa Rica (I challenge you to locate the country in a map), a game which supposedly handed the initiative over to England.

Then came the Italy game. England as always ‘fought valiantly’, however we were once again ineffective in containing the threat from the Italian midfield, a recurring problem, and were undone by a Mario ‘WHY ALWAYS ME’ Balotelli winner.

A lost to the Italians was in many ways expected (especially when the match was played in the middle of the Amazon forest), and many positives emerged compared to the toothless performance in Ukraine two years ago. The Liverpool backbone was clearly more adapt with possession and more attacking-minded. Raheem Sterling, aged 19 and younger than myself, was arguably our best player. We scored a goal with the much-maligned Rooney involved in the build-up. Surely our prospects would improve against the shattered Uruguayans (supposedly) without a match-fit Luis Suarez?

Likewise in tragedies, these positives all turned out to be false hopes. Suarez was firing on all cylinders as the Liverpool teammates finally orchestrated a goal against Joe Hart. At the end of the day, we were outplayed by a nation with a population slightly smaller than Greater Birmingham.

Yet surprisingly the two defeats did not immediately signal elimination: because of the Costa Rican victory against Uruguay earlier, a scenario where England would qualify existed, if the Costa Ricans were to lose their remaining games AND the Italians took down Uruguay too. These are all what ‘should’ happen. And then they didn’t happen.

The Costa Ricans, with a population about half of London and deprived of their two biggest names (Oviedo of Everton; top-scorer Saborio who plays in the MLS), demonstrated to the world how one should approach and disrupt the mighty Italian midfield. They pressed. They denied space. And when they had the ball they broke at speed. In other words, they did what England was unable to do in the typical English way. All the irony.

Thus a twist of fate has allowed for a fairytale to continue in England’s expense. But there really cannot be much complaints. We didn’t play well enough, while two other nations with significantly less resources did. The English tragedy has once again came to its despairing conclusion, although we as fans will continue to tune into the next major tournaments, hoping that eventually we will witness a comedy too.

Except we won’t.