The 20 key questions for nation on brink of World Cup hysteria

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The Independent Online

Is the hysteria around this match symptomatic of a nation in crisis?

By Oliver James

Our feeling about today's game is not hysterical, but I think it is true to say that a disproportionate interest in the result does exist. Most fundamentally, that reflects the feelings of low status, insignificance, powerlessness and helplessness, so we are hoping to feel boosted through success on the pitch because we identify with the players.

However, our feelings are extremely divided. While part of us longs to be the best, another part of us wants failure. If our players fail, in part, we will be able to feel that our own sense of inadequacy is relieved because it is the players who are feeling it - not us.

But most painful of all, for all of us, is the absence of creativity, self-expression and plain and simple joy in the manner in which our team is performing.

English-speaking nations are obsessed with results, outcomes, rewards and praise, that is why they have twice the rate of mental illness compared to mainland western European nations. Having has replaced Being, Wanting has replaced meeting real Needs, very sadly, we are preoccupied with winning rather than the process of getting there.

Oliver James is a child psychologist and author of Britain on the Couch

In the absence of a ticket, is an England match best watched at home, in the pub or in the open air?

By Matthew Norman

Even in the presence of a ticket, let alone the absence, on no account would I dream of going to the ground for an important game.

Apart from anything else, you cannot face the journey out when you lose. You cannot be physically violent at a match, in the pub or outside; you certainly cannot go around putting your fist through doors and you cannot make grotesquely offensive remarks in front of people you do not know, particularly about the England players. I literally carry the scars of defeat - one for each penalty shootout disaster (four since 1990) - this house is dotted with damaged doors.

Imagine being caught in one of those reaction shots looking shell-shocked with a tear welling up as the last England penalty bounces away off the goalkeepers knee, a figure of pity and mirth around the world. To put up with the loudmouth imbecile who makes the same joke 83 times is unthinkable. In this house, I am the only loudmouth imbecile and that is how I intend to keep it.

Matthew Norman is a columnist for The Independent

Is the England team a multicultural beacon of hope?

By Yasmin Alibhai-Brown

I don't look for beacons of hope in football teams - that would be foolish. But it is a very good thing that, unlike many other things we are famous for, our team reflects who we are.

Black Britons are not, I suspect, as visible at Glyndebourne, Henley, or even Wimbledon, but at least we are in the football team, which is good. But I notice one thing; the blow-up England footballer dolls are all pink, so the idea of Englishness is very different from playing for England. You can play for England, but you can never be English, so that is a problem.

Wherever I look I see, more and more, fantastic mixing and terrible segregation between the various tribes of England. So I don't know if this is a beacon of hope or an image of despair. There are still too many problems that we need to address, but compared with most European teams, we have dealt with some of the worst racism in the game.

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown is a columnist for The Independent

When should a team play 4-5-1? What are the drawbacks, particularly for England?

By Sam Wallace

When the players a coach possesses, or the way an opponent plays, suggest it is the best formation for the result he wants to achieve. It can be negative, and leave the lone striker isolated but not if the personnel and execution are right. The problem for England is they play too many long balls, and a lone striker cannot hope to control and retain a ball aimed at his head.

This means the central midfield do not have time to get forward to support him, especially when the heat is sapping their energy. It is also a waste of Wayne Rooney's ability to find space between the defensive and midfield lines. But with Eriksson failing to take someone like Charlton's Darren Bent there are a lack of alternatives.

Sam Wallace is the Football Correspondent for The Independent

Sven says winning is all that matters. Is he right?

By James Lawton

No, of course he isn't right ... no coach, however brilliant, can guarantee victory, the game is filled with too many intangibles for that but what he can do is build the consistent level of performance that provides the best chance of success.

Performance is everything; when that is achieved the good coach accepts that someone even as clownish as Eriksson can ride to glory on a fluke but the essential challenge of his own job remains the same; picking the right players, giving them the chance to play together, and then watching them develop.

This is generally how you win a tournament as demanding as the World Cup. What Eriksson says now is a pathetic attempt to cover up one of the most inept bodies of work ever put together by a coach at the highest level.

No doubt if England should win the World Cup, and the sky is filled with flying pigs, Eriksson's claim will be embodied in wild national celebration. But some who care about both football and the way their country plays the game will still shake their heads. My country right or wrong? Perhaps in time of war, but not when the issue is football, a game that is supposed to be beautiful and uplifting.

James Lawton is the Chief Sports Writer for The Independent

Should the World Cup dominate the media agenda?

By Donald Trelford

Before the World Cup, I was convinced the media had made a massive mistake in overestimating their readers' appetite for reading about football.

It seemed crazy to publish page after page of speculation. Then two things happened: the event itself began, providing real substance to write about - and I discovered I was reading every word. Everyone I met seemed to be as clued up as I was.

The quality and ingenuity of the output have justified the huge investment in staff and space. Live football, especially in the knockout stage, is just about the most dramatic television possible: history is made in front of your eyes. The newspapers milk the interest created by the live drama by illuminating the experience for viewers, relaying the backstage gossip, filling out the characters, explaining the tactics, answering their half-formulated questions.

The two forms of media interact. The public indulge their sense of national identity - patriotism if you like - without anyone having to get killed (unless we lose today, when Sven will be ritually disembowelled).

Donald Trelford is a professor of journalism and former editor of The Observer

Will the heat be a factor?

By Professor Mike Tipton

With guys as fit as England should be, it would take about seven to ten days to acclimatise to the heat in Germany so they should be OK now. But Portugal are going to be much more used to the heat.

But it is not just about being acclimatised - it is learning how to play in the heat. The England players don't normally have to contend with the heat and so spend a lot of time running about, especially midfielders such as Lampard and Gerrard. Continental players take it more slowly to conserve their energy. The question is whether the England team can adapt to a more pedestrian pace or still try to play the way that they are used to.

Professor Tipton works at the University of Portsmouth's department of sport and exercise science

Are Tony Blair and Gordon Brown praying for World Cup success?

By Steve Richards

As long as England are in the competition, the attention will be diverted from the feverish and damaging speculation about Mr Blair's future. Already there is relief in Downing Street that today's newspapers are dominated by football rather than the febrile state of the Government. After 1966, Harold Wilson mischievously posed the same question for the rest of his career: "Has anyone noticed that England only win World Cups under Labour governments?" Mr Blair would benefit also from the feelgood factor. The prospect of him acquiring a new political glow is one of the reasons Mr Brown will probably feel more ambiguous.

Steve Richards is a political columnist for The Independent

Have the WAGs become a national joke?

By Deborah Orr

The biggest turn-up so far has been that so much thought and attention has gone into making the tournament female-friendly, with daily if not hourly commentary on every single tiny movement that any of the England WAGs makes.

What fools the women of Britain were, to believe they'd feel alienated in their own homes by the obsession of their menfolk with the beautiful game. The women of the nation have a beautiful game of their own and it revolves around working out who's beautiful, who's game and who only thinks their Fake Bake's all over (well, it is now).

Are the wives and girlfriends, who preen ostentatiously, dance on tables, shop incorrigibly, fly back to London for hairdressing, competitively diet and never, ever go to the opera, an embarrassment? No, of course not. They're an affirmation.

What would be embarrassing is if they all turned out to be lawyers and film directors, keen on discussing the situation in Gaza, book-grouping Chomsky to while away the time, and bizarrely only in Germany because they feel it's their duty to their men and to their nation.

It's long been apparent that footballers live in a weird, shallow materialistic world where they are required never to grow up, so it would be utterly humiliating to find women capable of doing anything more useful were hanging around with them. The real embarrassment is so many women back home who have got more important things to be getting on with, still find a peek at the tweeny-woman antics of these 21st century molls to be so irresistibly beguiling.

Deborah Orr is a columnist for The Independent

Should the Scots and the Welsh support England?

By John Mullin


John Mullin is executive editor of The Independent and a Scot living in London

After four turgid performances, no one likes us. Do we care?

By Kevin Miles

Everybody would prefer it if England won the World Cup playing with style, verve and panache. But I've not come across many people who would demand that we return the trophy if we win it by winning each game 1-0.

The Germans never played very well right up to the final (in 2002) but they managed to find a route to the final which didn't require them to. So far that's been England's story. The performances have not been great but the results have gone our way. If you look at the best football Germany played (in 2002) it was in the final. The final is a pretty good place to play your best football.

Kevin Miles is head of the Football Supporters Federation

Does crime fall during the World Cup?

By David Wilson

The World Cup has brought the country together, giving people a common cause. Under those circumstances, you find some types of crime will fall. For example, you tend to get fewer burglaries and car crimes. But whenever you get large groups of people drinking alcohol together you get an increase in other types of offences.

As people lose their inhibitions, you get more assaults, petty thefts, and cases of domestic violence can rise. You also find that after such a big public event recorded crime increases, because the police have a greater number of officers on duty, which results in more people getting arrested.

So there is no straightforward answer - some crimes go up, and others fall. I don't think England's performance will have an impact on the level of crime.

David Wilson is professor of criminology at the University of Central England, in Birmingham

Do we like the Portuguese?

By John Lichfield

We like the Portuguese. We do. It is just we can't remember why we do. They are, we are told, our oldest ally, although no one can remember why or for how long. We like Portuguese wine, such as vihno verde and port. But no one can remember whether port should be passed to the left or right. Or what VSOP means.

We like their beaches and golf courses in the Algarve. We know Lisbon is one of the world's most beautiful cities but can't remember the name of a single street. We like the fact Portugal stopped being fascist, using carnations instead of guns but we can't remember when. (It was 1974).

We love the Portuguese, mostly because they are not Spanish. Or French. Or German. Or ...

John Lichfield is the Paris Correspondent for The Independent

Does winning the World Cup really boost the economy?

By Martin Hickman

Many economists think so. A study for ABN Amro says that, in the past, the economy of the World Cup winner has been boosted by 0.7 per cent, while the losing finalist has lost 0.3 per cent. Growth for the winner always outstrips the loser except in two years - 1974 and 1978 when, respectively, the economies of Germany and Argentina, slumped, ABN Amro says.

The Treasury is not getting too excited about the prospects of what might happen. Its experience suggests that higher than expected consumption of some goods and services tended to lead to lower than expected consumption of others, balancing out over the year as a whole.

A spokesman for the Treasury said: "The World Cup this year has not had an especially large impact on the economic forecast."

Martin Hickman is the Consumer Affairs Correspondent for The Independent

Why are England so bad at penalties?

By Glenn Moore

A combination of nerve, fortune and preparation have combined to condemn England from 12 yards in two of their past three World Cup tournaments, or rather, the lack of all three.

Surely only misfortune can explain the lingering leg from the Germany goalkeeper that kept out the usually deadly Stuart Pearce's effort in the shootout at Italia '90 and, in the 2004 European Championships, the mole that appeared under the penalty spot and moved the ball just as David Beckham swung to connect against Portugal?

England have failed to hold their nerve at critical moments, hence the weak efforts straight down the middle from David Batty and Gareth Southgate at the 1998 World Cup and Euro '96. Following his miss in St Etienne, Batty revealed he had never taken a penalty in competitive football before. An oversight that would never happen to Germany.

Glenn Moore is football editor for The Independent

Has the new ball really made a difference?

By Ken Bray

The Adidas Teamgeist football has just 14 panels and, with fewer seams, its surface is smoother than conventional footballs which have 26 or 32 panels.

At very low spin rates the panel pattern of the new ball can have a big influence on its trajectory. The Teamgeist ball is aerodynamically more similar to the baseball. In baseball, pitchers often throw a "curve ball", which is similar to a swerving free kick, and the rotating seam disrupts the air flow around the ball, in much the same way as a swerving free kick.

Occasionally though, pitchers will throw a "knuckleball" which bobs about randomly in flight and is very disconcerting for batters. I think the new ball has made important but subtle differences because it has introduced an extra dimension of uncertainty.

Dr Bray is a sports scientist at Bath University

Do England do better when they have a good song?

By Andy Gill

If there is even the slightest connection, then (a) the current England team are doomed, and (b) we'd all better get singing "World Cup Willie" a bit smartish, to try and resurrect the spirit of 1966.

There are those who have a soft spot for New Order's "World In Motion", but it didn't seem to help the team - and indeed, some contend it actually instigated New Order's decline. We can but hope the same applies to the charmless Embrace.

As regards sheer anthemic quality, however, there's no rival to "Three Lions" - which wasn't even a World Cup song but a European Championship song whose impact has lingered. The proof lies in the fact that "Three Lions" remains the only other anthem that England fans will start singing unprompted. Here's hoping it's loud and clear at six o'clock today.

Andy Gill is a music writer for The Independent

Is anything else important happening today?

By Guy Adams

Are you kidding? We are slap, bang in the middle of the summer - and a five-day heatwave, to boot.

If you're sick of football, mosey down to SW19, where a crowd of 30,000 is slowly toasting in front of Wimbledon 2006. Forty miles up the Thames, Oxfordshire lies beneath several hundred acres of marquee. It's semi-finals day at the Henley Regatta: put on a loud blazer, grab a Pimm's, and ogle Britain's finest oarsmen. At Headingley, England's cricketers (who are, perhaps, in even worse form than our footballers) attempt to avoid a five-nil one-day whitewash against Sri Lanka. Away from the sporting arena, crowds of 750,000 are expected in London for the Europride gay rights march. It's followed by a rally in Trafalgar Square and a tub-thumping concert at the Albert Hall.

Guy Adams is editor of The Independent's gossip column, Pandora

How will the nation's health be affected by the outcome?

By Maxine Frith

A study of the 1998 World Cup found that deaths from heart attacks in France fell by a quarter on the day their national team won the tournament. Researchers say the euphoria and lowered stress levels triggered by a win can reduce the rate of heart disease.

But doctors warn that a win would trigger a spate of binge drinking and increase hospital admissions for alcohol poisoning.

A recent study said fans drink more during games to compensate for the sense of emasculation they feel for not being on the pitch. The worst outcome, according to experts, would be if the game went to penalties. A study in the British Medical Journal looked at the 1998 World Cup when England lost to Argentina on penalties. On that day, hospital admissions for heart attacks increased by 25 per cent and the above-average rate continued for three days before returning to normal.

Maxine Frith is the Social Affairs Correspondent for The Independent

Am I abnormal if I don't care about the World Cup?

By Rebecca Tyrrel

Well, yes I am in that I deviate from the norm. Clearly the norm is to care deeply about it and demonstrate the extent of ones caring by becoming laddish and shouting loudly and apparently randomly while wearing a flag of St George boob tube.

There is a bit of me, a patriotic smidgen of me, that would like England to do well but that would be true no matter what the sport.

There is one thing I will miss when the World Cup is over and that is being able to go out and about whenever England play and encounter no traffic, no people in the parks, no queues in the shops. I love that.

On the other hand there is something else that I dread if and when we lose. And that is the gloom, that awful Stygian gloom. That's when I want to shout: "Get over yourselves."

Rebecca Tyrrel is a columnist for The Independent