Do England have the guts?

2009-09-12 00:00

IN the last week, several of the most anticipated guests at the 2010 table have confirmed their places next June.

Just on Wednesday, the might of Her Majesty joined the Dutch and the Spanish as the early favourites. Already we have been subjected to British scribes proclaiming the Jules Rimet trophy as being a dead certainty to be in London by this time next year.

Sadly, however, history suggests that Fabio Capello’s squad will do like that humble after-dinner delight, and simply crumble.

The weight of expectation in England is like none other save perhaps for Brazil, who reckon it is God’s will for the famous cup to be dressed in yellow and blue ribbons every four years.

England have continually emerged from qualification with promising records and oodles of talent, but no side order of composure for when it matters most. Despite theirs being one of the most impressive squad lists in the world, it is only on paper that they mildly spook the world’s best.

Many have expressed surprise at the manner France and even Italy have dragged their way through qualifying, but along with the efficient Germans the French are highly adept at peaking at the right time. Remember 2006, when France’s “daddy army” soldiered on to the final, sweeping past even the Brazilians.

Some teams know when they have to really turn it on, and they do.

England seem to have grown under Capello, with discipline at the forefront of their impressive passage to 2010.

But that is all they will bring to South Africa an impressive year before the real thing, which counts for little in the long run. Sven Goran Eriksson was a master at waltzing through preliminary stages, filling a yearning nation with hope that this time would be England’s time.

But the path of failure is littered with grown men who lost their nerve, particularly from the penalty spot, and were left to ponder for four long years what could have been.

It is not that they do not have the talent to win the darn thing, it just seems they do not know how to apply the coup de grace.

In many ways, the English football team is much like the cricketing Proteas — blessed with a seemingly endless pool of class players, experience and a sprinkling of youth.

They are always one of the favourites, but they always find a way to lose the plot. It is a curse that seems to strike on the biggest stages, and yet the hope among their supporters never diminishes.

Future generations may one day ponder how a golden age of highly decorated club footballers such as Rio Ferdinand, Steven Gerrard, David Beckham and Wayne Rooney contrived to fail in every major championship they entered. It is not so much mystery as it is an overwhelming sense of under-achievement, unfulfilled promise and testimony to how reputations count for naught on the biggest of stages.

More than ever, the race to 2010 is hotting up. Local fans have to allow for the uncomfortable truth that the world’s best players, Ronaldo of Portugal and Messi of Argentina, may not even grace our shores — save perhaps for a sight-seeing tour.

Some sides simply fall into a slump at the worst imaginable time, and those two giants have a mountain to climb to get on a plane to Soccer City.

This past week has also revealed that South Africa continue to lack firepower where it matters most. Germany would always be a tough fixture, but for Bafana to prove toothless against what was effectively an Ireland B side is of major concern.

For all the neat flicks, South Africa will not live beyond the first week of 2010 without a decent finisher. It seems to be an issue that is not being addressed.

Even the drastic ploy of employing a massive target man may aid the situation, whereby Bafana’s seemingly endless supply of dainty midfielders can operate around the man tower and feed off the scraps. It is a woeful situation, but one that has been glaringly obvious even before South Africa was announced as hosts.

The world is nigh upon us, and even if our stadia, airports and security are all being jacked up, a host nation that turns to marshmallow at the first whistle is not the happiest prospect.

While we turn every stone in search of a half-decent finisher, it seems the nation’s best strikers are part of Cosatu or civil servants.

Perhaps it’s time Joel Santana sent some scouts towards the Union Buildings or Parliament, instead of wasting time at Orlando Stadium.

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