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England

For many years the English public, duped by the tabloids, has been under the illusion that the England squad were among the very best in the world. With the blame for continuous failure placed at the doorstep of a foreign manager like a burning bag of digested pedigree chum. (I’m including Steve Maclaren in the foreign manager bracket as despite holding a British passport, from his “Championsh league, Arshenal, Mancheshter united” he’s clearly under the illusion that he’s Netherlands born and bred. Here it is http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2ZnoP4sUV90)

Football blogging seems to have risen meteorically in the last 2 years, replacing the tabloids as the source of football knowledge for many and bringing with it a new breed of fan. A fan exposed to the marvellous tactical seminars of Zonal Marking, a fan conscious of the financial landscape portrayed by the Swiss Ramble, and a fan enlightened by the beautifully composed articles of Jonathan Wilson. This has dramatically expanded the horizons of many a football fan, with almost everyone I know more than aware of the talents of Hazard and Neymar, despite the French and Brazilian leagues rarely being shown on British television. Add this to YouTube compilations and Football Manager and, as anyone on twitter will know, we seem to be exposed to a torrent of splash back from the endless pissing contests between fans desperate their club signs a Giroud, Hazard or Lukaku despite never seeing them play an entire game. It’s the age of the YouTube scout.

Like Peacocks, football fans enjoy an elaborate display to secure their alpha status . Unlike Peacocks most football fans don’t have a magnificent plumage erupting from their arse. But what we lack in arse plumage, we make up for with a magnificent array of half baked opinions. The arse-opinion display de rigeur is “I don’t think England will leave the groups”, an opinion which suggests a wondrous depth of knowledge in Swedish, French, English and Ukrainian football. A depth of knowledge which, to be honest, is impossible to have. I am perfectly willing to admit that I only have one set of eyes, and this disability means that I find it difficult to watch more than one national league at a time. I feel like I have a reasonable depth of knowledge in the Premier League and of most major European clubs. But If you asked me about Sochaux I’d have to resort to “I hear Marvin Martin’s pretty good” and if you asked me about Shaktar Donetsk I’d have to go with “aren’t they all Brazilian like Willian?”.

The current England squad aren’t world beaters, but they’re still pretty good. Rooney is easily one of the best in the world on his day, Young’s starting to justify his price tag, Ashley Cole’s Champions League final performance puts him right up with the best in the world, the Ox is overflowing with potential and in Joe Hart they finally have a world class keeper between the sticks. But most importantly they have Hodgson. A man seemingly aware of their limitations, succeeding so far in making them very, very difficult to beat. Contrast that with Sweden, a team who have Zlatan, Elm, and not much else. Ukraine, still reliant on an ancient Shevchenko and a battle weary Tymoshchuk. With Chernobyl’s failure to produce super athletes a colossal disappointment. Admittedly Sweden and Ukraine don’t have Stewart Downing, but the “England won’t leave the groups” statement still starts to seem more and more like a knowledge codpiece. An illusion of continental insight which betrays a burning desire for attention.

My prediction would be that England finish second in their group. I don’t think they’re better than France, but they’re definitely not as bad as some seem to think. With the right amount of tactical nous, luck and *chokes back vomit* “English grit” they might just go further than expected. But if you mention 1966 I’ll kick you in the bollocks.

by Mike, @miketweetgood

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