Leading article: Winners and losers

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The Independent Online

This is a big day for English sport. The England cricket team take on India at Lord's in the final game of a thrilling one-day series. The England rugby team will begin the defence of their World Cup crown against the USA in France. Finally, the England football team will host Israel at Wembley in a vital 2008 European Championship qualifying match.

Certain similarities leap out regarding the state of the three teams. Key players in each – Andrew Flintoff, Jonny Wilkinson and Wayne Rooney – have injuries. This tells us something about the physical demands on sportsmen. But there is another factor that seems to bind the teams: a lack of confidence among the English public about its sporting representatives.

To an outsider this might appear to be a bizarre bout of self-flagellation. The England rugby team are not as strong as they were in 2003, but the USA are an amateur side and the match in Lens is likely to be a rout. The England cricket team have been playing well of late and will win the series if they prevail at Lord's. The England football team, even with their injury problems, should easily have enough firepower to beat Israel, a team well below them in the Fifa rankings.

So what is there to be despondent about? The answer is a sense of missed opportunity. Two years ago the English cricket team beat the world's best team, Australia, in an unforgettable Ashes series, a platform they could have used to go on and dominate the world of cricket. Four years ago, at the last World Cup, the England rugby team triumphed gloriously in the final, again over Australia. But in both cases the momentum for improvement was lost. Some players came to regard their new-found celebrity as an end in itself. Performances since scaling those heights have generally been poor.

A similarly negative process seems to have been taken place in English football. Despite football being by far the most popular and wealthiest of the three sports in England, the national football team have consistently failed to live up to expectations. Many feel that the adulation and riches lavished on top players (and on paper England has one of the best teams in the world) have hindered them.

Paradoxically, it seems that England's trio of national sport teams should be less worried about the prospect of failure – and rather more wary about the trappings of success.

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