English fans and media get the team they deserve
One of the jokes doing the rounds is that the Football Association is considering paying the England players a bonus for finally living up to expectations of the team.
The reality, of course, is that the majority of fans and media were hoping against all the evidence that England could emerge from group D and overcome modest opposition from group C to reach the quarter-finals. Once there, anything is possible .?.?.
Raheem Sterling fuelled the misguided optimism against Italy with a scorching drive that brought the nation to its feet as it deceived us all on the way into the side-netting, a “goal” as false as the team's new dawn.
But it is the nature of football fans to create last chances and to cling on to them on the basis of the most perverse logic. Cue, then, a compendium of emotions — Rooney out, Gerrard out, Hodgson out. Or, then again, maybe beat Costa Rica and if the results go our way .?.?.
Costa Rica's goal courtesy of Bryan Ruiz put paid to that notion and will have left four-times winners Italy sweating before a winner-takes-all contest against a resurgent Uruguay and the twisting, turning, constant threat that is Luis Suárez.
One irony is that England may well now beat Costa Rica, as the supposed weakest team in the group rests players in readiness for the knockout stage. Another is that the damage to England's World Cup hopes was inflicted by Mario Balotelli, Suárez and Ruiz, all recent stars of the Barclays Premier League.
England's representatives of the self-styled “best league in the world” have offered no excuses, only apologies. But claims in press conferences and on Twitter that they are “devastated” or “gutted” ring hollow with many fans who see prima donnas on six-figure weekly pay packets appear short on commitment and class.
Harry Redknapp's claims that players would tell him that they did not want to turn out for the national side may be interpreted as the ramblings of a man stirring discontent after missing out on the England job, but he may have a point. English fans and media who persistently pillory the players have the level of achievement that they deserve.
But such is the quality of this World Cup that the intelligent debate quickly moved on — even in England — and is all about enjoying the matches that remain, and trying to pick a winner from a tournament even more open than the 2010 edition.
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Stars: Costa Rica have qualified for the knockout phase in style from a group that contains three past winners. The feeling persists that they are punching above their weight, but they will avoid the big names in the round of 16 and may not be finished yet.
Flops: Not England. Really. Because they lost two close games against quality opponents and improved immeasurably on their displays at the past two major tournaments. But Honduras started the tournament at the bottom of the betting with Iran and Costa Rica, and they are alone in having failed to make any positive impact.
Rough justice?: After his theatrics against Portugal, how many fans permitted themselves a wry smile when Thomas Müller headed Ghana defender John Boye's shoulder and found out how it feels to take a proper hit?
Best fans: The Swiss look great with those cheesy hats, Colombia bring a cacophony of sound to every game they play and Brazil's supporters cheer every team except Argentina. But for colour and passion, the world will want Ghana to progress as far as possible in this tournament.
So close: Karim Benzema has hit three goals already for France and would have more but for a bizarre combination of near-misses. He was denied a hat-trick against Honduras when his shot came back off a post and was fumbled over the line by the goalkeeper, he had a penalty saved against Switzerland and then saw another effort disallowed because the referee blew for full time before the ball crossed the line.
Hey ref!: A lenient approach by officials is welcome and certainly helps matches to flow, but few outside Argentina thought Pablo Zabaletta's challenge on Ashkan Dejagah, did not warrant a penalty, which might have changed the game.
Phil Ascough, the author of Never Mind The Penalties — The Ultimate World Cup Quiz Book (foreword by Kevin Kilbane) and Never Mind The Tigers, both published by The History Press, was a senior reporter and sub-editor at The Royal Gazette from 1989 to 1992