The IoS World Cup countdown

Excited after England's 'easy' draw? Let David Randall puncture your dreams
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The Independent Football

Here we go, here we go, here we go! Again. Yes, four brief global football-free years have skipped by, and it's the World Cup once more. And, for England, we all know what that means: a lucky draw in early December of the year before, followed by months of speculation, Waggery, hype, hope and hyperventilation.

It's all deplorably familiar and makes the self-styled "greatest tournament on the planet" seem like the Groundhog Day of world sport. So, to save any of us paying anything more than cursory attention until the whole over-blown nonsense is over, here's a week-by-week calendar of all those pseudo-events, photo opportunities, phoney rows, injuries, preenings, poutings and posturings that lead, of course, to the inevitable denouement, in a penalty area somewhere in South Africa.

So, spare yourself the dreary anticipation, and read how it's all bound to turn out.

World Cup Countdown

4 December

England are drawn in a group that includes the USA, Algeria, and Slovenia, otherwise known, because of their economies, as "The Group of Debt".

5 December

Tabloid headlines greeting the news of England's draw start seven months of hysterical over-confidence. "Easy" is The Sun's verdict; "Yankee Doddle Dandy" is the Daily Mirror's.

2 January

In a New Year message to the nation, Fabio Capello says that England face group matches that will be tougher than many people realise, and he cautions against what he says is "counting the chicken before he is roasted". The Sun headlines their story: "Fab to World: We've got it won!"

28 January

Chris Evans barred from taking any England player clubbing.

9 February

The first "England in World Cup security nightmare" story appears, as it is revealed that the fence at their South African training camp has "holes in it". It is a chain-link fence.

14 March

England draw 0-0 with San Marino in warm-up game. The Daily Mirror hails the performance with the headline: "Capello's clean-sheet wonders!" England now 2-1 on to win cup.

3 April

Metatarsal Monday. This is something of a mystery, since all that happened to Steven Gerrard is that he broke a toe-nail getting out of the bath. The red-tops publish endless medical diagrams, until a doctor points out that toe-nails grow back.

17 April

Wayne Rooney reveals that the crying of his baby son Kai occasionally wakes him up in the night. The Sun asks: "Is this the most evil baby in Britain?"

24 April

England's World Cup Squad named. There is a shock inclusion: Albert Figgis, the promising midfield general of Hackney Marshes side Athletico Clapton.

7 May

England's pre-tournament tour of the South Atlantic reaches a climax with a 2-1 victory over South Georgia (AET). The Sun headlines the story: "Fabio's world beaters leave Penguinland unbeaten".

29 May

On the eve of their departure for South Africa, Prime Minister Dave Cameron hosts a 17-course, black-tie dinner for the squad at the Carlton Club. He tells them how he used to stand on the terraces at High Wycombe and watch Tommy Lawton score the goals that brought the European Cup to the Buckinghamshire club.

4 June

Just days after England's arrival at their South African headquarters, headlines scream "South African World Cup Sabotage Plot!" after it emerges that Peter Crouch's bed is six inches too short. An enterprising Women's Institute in Yorkshire send him a pair of bed socks.

9 June

New storm breaks out as it is learnt that the BBC has 948 staff in South Africa to cover the tournament. Director-General Mark Thompson says from his seven-room suite at an exclusive Cape Town resort: "Hello, is that room service?"

10 June

Prince Andrew jets in for a golf tournament, after which he will pay a brief visit to the British trade legation in Johannesburg. In response to questions from waiting journalists, he says: "World Cup? Really? I had no idea."

12 June

England struggle to hold the USA to a 1-1 draw. Tabloids suddenly turn on the team. "What a bunch of Yankers!" is one headline.

18 June

The Algeria game. England take early lead, but, as one of the 37 BBC commentators points out: "The silky ball skills of the foreign players are giving our chaps an awful lot of trouble." Sure enough, Algeria equalise, and, after a misunderstanding in the England defence, score the winner in the 87th minute. The day after the Algeria match, The Sun's front page has a picture of Fabio Capello in a Tommy Cooper fez with the headline: "And for my next trick!" The Star starts a petition to have Capello deported. England must now beat Slovenia by two goals to qualify for the next round.

19 June

In the following day's interviews, Frank Lampard tells press: "We haven't become bad players overnight." Right, Frank, it's taken years to achieve that.

23 June

Millions take the day off work for the vital Slovenia game. England hold a slender 1-0 lead with a minute to go, when Wayne Rooney falls over his bootlaces, and a free kick is given to England just inside the Slovenian half. David Beckham scores with the kick after it takes a nasty deflection off the referee's backside. England are through. Within minutes, Trafalgar Square is awash with tens of thousands celebrating. Next day, the Daily Mirror says: "It's as good as won!" The Sun calls for Capello to be knighted.

28 June

England play group-stage surprises Serbia for a place in the last eight. Despite the presence of the WAGs in the stands (apart from two who did not return from the safari photo-op), England turn in their best performance so far, beating the Serbs 2-0, thanks to own goals by Nohopeovic, and Cakhandovic Sun calls for Capello to be given hereditary peerage, and for Cakhandovic to be knighted.

2 July

On the morning of England's quarter-final against Argentina, the front pages are full of bulldogs, Winston Churchill, and Admiral Sandy Woodward. The Guardian, after a mix-up by their picture desk, carries a picture of Eva Peron. The game is a drab 0-0 draw, and so to the inevitable penalties. In the vital kick, a hapless Ashley Cole runs up, slips over, and the ball dribbles harmless into the arms of the laughing Argentine goalkeeper. England are out. Cole blames his wife.

3 July

Front pages scream for England squad to be denied re-entry to Britain, and Capello to be put on trial for World Cup crimes. PM Dave Cameron says it is a sporting tragedy, comparable to when 'Spiffy' Prosser missed the final heave in the Eton wall game of 1984.


Rest of World Cup plays out. No one in England cares anymore