World Cup 2010
James Lawton: Victims of a cruel injustice, but ultimately well beaten
Monday 28 June 2010
We should have technology in football 10 years into the 21st century, just as we have running water and antibiotics.
It may also be true that if England hadn't suffered so outrageously from the lack of it here yesterday, Germany – a new, young Germany – might not have finished quite so cruelly superior.
But if England face their own reality, rather than dwell too heavily on the distortion of it imposed when an equalising goal of absolute legality was denied them, they will have to take home from the World Cup something more than a massive sense of grievance.
They will have to admit that this wasn't a defeat but an undressing, a statement about how some teams evolve and grow strong in the process, and others just slip into a time warp.
This is what happened to the remnants of the mythical Golden Generation, which was supposed to conquer the world with players like David Beckham and Michael Owen.
The 4-1 defeat can be larded with sympathy, but in the end there was no avoiding the fact that English football has been cruelly exposed here these past few weeks.
Those of us who thought that in the last of their talent they might just have a little too much for an unformed Germany, and enough at least to carry them into the quarter-final in Cape Town more in hope than expectation, were disabused of the instinct just about as soon as it took young German players like Thomas Müller and Mesut Ozil to thread together a game of brilliant movement and a fine understanding of available space.
Yes, the lack of measures to prevent the kind of outrage which came when Frank Lampard's shot smacked against the underside of the crossbar and landed at least two feet over the line is sickening and, who knows – because football can be a game of such curious ebb and flow – it might well have helped to shape the result.
England could have built some serious momentum on the impact of two goals in two minutes, but when Uruguayan linesman Mauricio Espinos failed to react, leaving his compatriot and referee Jorge Larrionda to gasp "Oh, my God!" when he saw film at half-time, the regime of England coach Fabio Capello had entered its most critical phase.
No doubt it will be assailed from many quarters now, and when all is said it seems improbable in the extreme that he will decide to soldier on in the face of disaster. But in the raging and recrimination it will surely be folly not to recognise a truth beyond the power of the most brilliant coach.
It is that Capello left no player behind in England who might have significantly affected this latest example of German football's ability to remake itself into a formidable force every four years. And that those he brought to South Africa, whether it was because we grossly overestimated their ability, or (as Franz Beckenbauer has been suggesting so strongly these last few days) that they were indeed burnt out from too much football, simply were not equal to the challenge.
Lampard fought the realities exploding around his head with most resilience. He smashed a free kick against the crossbar, and had his goal been allowed he might have been emboldened to extend the authority of his performance under the heaviest of pressure.
As it was, the captain, Steven Gerrard, lapsed into terminal futility and the nightmare of Wayne Rooney simply gathered pace. England's defence, robbed of more poise than was feared when Rio Ferdinand was cut down before the tournament, was simply dismantled before our eyes. Matthew Upson, almost contemptuously bypassed when German veteran Miroslav Klose opened the scoring, scored a classic set-piece goal, but it could not disguise the fact that when Germany played at their most coherently the latest collision between the nations was increasingly a grotesque mismatch.
Capello said that there are so many things to consider for the future, and that if the mistake of the referee was "important" it was also probably true that his players came here a "little tired".
There were times, and not only at the end of an increasingly one-sided contest, when they looked more than that. They looked shot through and bewildered. In the ensuing inquest, some extremely hard questions have to be asked. Not just about a World Cup performance so bad that we have to go to 1950 and that humiliating defeat in Brazil by the part-timers and amateurs of the United States for a comparison, but about the very foundations of our national game.
English football boasts of the richest, most glamorous league in the world, but there was little indication of benefit to the team. English football lacks a national training centre for the pick of its young players, and scarcely 40 per cent of them get the chance to develop at the top of their own leagues. These are the kind of issues that demand attention today, perhaps even to the point of a government inquiry into the perilous finances of the leading clubs.
Meanwhile, Fifa has one more reason to re-examine its policy of banning technology from the game.
Yesterday, Fifa president Sepp Blatter watched stony-faced as reality was stood on its head when Lampard's goal was denied. This, though, was a matter for world football and its continued credibility. For England, there was the pain of victimhood but also a terrible fact that could not be ignored.
It was that they were leaving the World Cup, more than anything, for the most basic of reasons. They were simply not good enough.
Half-century of modest form
1958 fail to get beyond group stage
1962 lose to Brazil in quarter-finals
1966 winners, beating West Germany in the final
1970 lose to West Germany in quarter-finals
1974 fail to qualify
1978 fail to qualify
1982 knocked out in second group stage
1986 lose to Argentina in quarter- finals
1990 lose to West Germany in semi- finals
1994 fail to qualify
1998 lose in second round to Argentina
2002 lose in quarter-finals to Brazil
2006 lose in quarter-finals to Portugal
2010 lose in second round to Germany
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