Tuesday, February 7, 2023

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Wait A Minute… Is Germany The New England?!

Stars not fulfilling their potential. Humiliating defeats by plucky minnows. The looming spectre of a third mediocre tournament in a row. Whisper it, but have England’s footballing nemesis replaced them as the most underachieving team in Europe?

It was once a rule of life akin to death and taxes, not least for us England faithful: if you face up against Germany at a major footballing tournament, you’re going to get dicked. Just ask Brazil in 2014, with their historic seven goal capitulation, now a tongue in cheek staple on porn sites everywhere, or indeed us lot in ‘ol Blighty, time and time — …and time — again. So allow us a little schadenfreude, then, that the blitzkrieg of the tournament giants has seemingly sputtered out. A group stage exit at the World Cup in 2018; losing to England — England! — at the Euros last year; now, another first-round bow could very well be on the cards.

A nation that loves football more than schnitzel or sauerkraut, with a squad full of generational world-beaters, once more starring down the barrel of acrimonious disappointment. Who does that remind you of? Indeed, it’s only really possible to take the piss out of the German predicament because it’s one that hits so close to home: with schadenfreude comes empathy, because who better knows the corrosive dread of national humiliation, after so much hope, just so much miserable hope, than the English? They’ve even got their own Rickie Lambert in Niclas Füllkrug (who has, as far as one can tell, torn it up in the Bundesliga this season) the oldest outfield German player to make their international debut in twenty years — but hey, at least he scored when it mattered.

That’s perhaps the defining difference this time around: England most certainly wouldn’t have had the technical prowess, nor the tactical nous, to push back against Spain to a one-all draw, one which keeps hopes alive in Berlin beerhalls. Even in the 2-1 loss to Japan, the Germans were the better side, racking up double the expected goals of the eventual victors (plus possession, whatever “in contest” means). While we might be the ascendancy squad-wise, with generational talents like Phil Foden, Bukayo Saka and Jude Bellingham swiftly climbing the rankings, Germany are not exactly devoid of young talent. Just look at Jamal Musiala, one of the most exciting performers at the tournament so far, that turncoat bastard. And not to get in the way of Harry Maguire’s big comeback tour, but my god, wouldn’t you just love Rüdiger in our back line?


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But even the most objective readers of the game would concede, you’d think, that there’s more than a whiff of England’s early-to-mid 2010s here. As German national team journalist Raphael Honigstein wrote over at The Athletic, the Japan loss “really was the worst kind of loss for any team, due to its corrosive effect on morale.” It was hard to watch the fallout, with internal finger-pointing aplenty, and not think back to some of England’s greatest recent failings: maybe it wasn’t quite Iceland, but it was certainly Algeria, Italy or Uruguay. “It felt as if some didn’t want the ball anymore, you have to show for it, move away from your opponents,” said Man City midfielder İlkay Gündoğan after the fact. “I don’t know if it was lack of maturity or quality, but we didn’t have solutions.” 

Now we’d be remiss not to concede a similar feeling after that duller-than-dull draw with the USA on Friday, inarguably one of the worst games of the World Cup so far, but at least we still managed to nab a point. Indeed looking at some of the big underdog victories across the group stages so far — Japan, Saudi Arabia against Argentina, Morocco’s smash-and-grab against Belgium — Gareth Southgate, derided for the sort of footballing conservatism that puts the stands to sleep as swiftly as one can murmur “it’s coming home,” will feel well vindicated for his drab approach. At the end of the day, at least we’ll still be in the tournament; now they’re the ones relying on Costa Rica shitting the bed. Until the inevitable egg hits our face, as it most certainly will, that feels so very sweet.

Source: GQ Magazine

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