Can we please keep our collective grip on reality for the rest of the World Cup?

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Every four years at the World Cup (well, sometimes eight years with England) the form of the national team fluctuates from one extreme to the other – as do expectations.

We knew that, coming into this tournament, we had a young, relatively talented team, and expectations among players, fans and pundits were pitched at a reasonable level. Most people agreed that if England reached the quarter-finals, it would be job done and pats on the back all round.

Then we put six goals into Panama’s net and suddenly it’s ‘Pundit Panamania’, with bold predictions from the ‘experts’ that England will go on to win the World Cup – with striker Harry Kane picking up the Golden Boot along the way.

The inflation of expectation actually began a full week before – half-way through our first group game against Tunisia.

In the BBC commentary box, former England defender Martin Keown, not someone usually inclined towards hyperbole, declared that England were playing ‘some of the best football we’ve seen at the World Cup’.

Steady on. We were 20 minutes into our first game in the opening round of group-stage matches – leading lowly Tunisia by a solitary goal.

Fast forward to the Belgium game last Thursday and England fans in the stadium looked on incredulously, seemingly flabbergasted by the fact that our second team couldn’t score against Belgium’s second string. Why were they looking so surprised? This is England, girls and boys.

Pundits often describe seeing great players like Lionel Messi running with the ball as being akin to poetry in motion, but what this World Cup really needs – from England’s point of view – is some perspective through poetry.

Never has the line in Kipling’s ‘If’ been so relevant to English football: ‘If you can meet with triumph and disaster, and treat those two imposters just the same…’ Sadly, we can’t.

When England meet with triumph we go giddy and expectations soar. When we meet with ‘disaster’ we get crushed under the weight of those ludicrous expectations.

Still, it’s not over yet, with Tuesday evening’s knockout game against Colombia to be contested. Here’s hoping we can at least ‘fill the unforgiving minute with 60 seconds’ worth of distance run’. As for the remaining 89 minutes…


WHY oh why do we have to listen to highly paid television football pundits bleetin’ out the bleedin’ obvious?

Former England defender Phil Neville is one of the greatest exponents of talking a lot, but saying nothing of note. As a case in point, Phil was co-commentating on Sweden’s match against Mexico the other day, when the Swedes went 1-0 up. Their goal prompted Phil to declare (in prophetic fashion): ‘Sweden, at this time, have got the advantage.’

Say what you see, Phil. (Incidentally Phil, just how much are us BBC licence payers paying you so that we may hear your words of wisdom? No more than minimum wage, I hope.)

Don’t get me wrong, Phil Neville was a good footballer and is a nice bloke, but his impoverished punditry is ruining my enjoyment of the World Cup.

That was not the end of the soporific soundbites. Once Sweden’s goal had gone in, the commentator alongside Phil immediately started spouting on about how ‘ice cool’ the Swedish goal-scorer was in dispatching his strike. What commentating creativity! What imagination! What a woefully underused way of describing a sporty Scandinavian…

Whatever will sport’s commentating fraternity tell us next? That Swedish tennis great Björn Borg had ‘ice in his veins’? That Ferrari’s Finnish Formula One driver Kimi Raikkonen is an ‘iceman’?…

Still the prodigious punditry wasn’t over yet. Mexico conceded two more goals and Phil chipped in to describe this turn of events as ‘an absolute disaster’ for the Mexicans.

Hang on. The world isn’t falling apart, is it? And if I remember rightly, Mexico as a country has suffered some rather nasty natural disasters in the past, such as mudslides resulting in dozens of fatalities.

Plus, I’m fairly certain there was a sizeable earthquake that devastated Mexico City last September, killing hundreds of inhabitants. If we are talking about ‘absolute disasters’, then defeat in a football match isn’t one of them.

To be fair to Phil, he is not alone – we all lose our perspective when it comes to the World Cup.

Should England lose to Colombia, we will all do well to remember that it won’t be an absolute tragedy, just a well-timed reality check.

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