We shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves. There is a long way to go but, just for a moment, lie down, close your eyes, and think of England.

In the same way that Aussies will be fantasising about the prospect of playing England in the second stage at the World Cup, the Poms will be having quiet nightmares about being knocked off by their nemesis in the one sport where we have never bettered the beloved Mother Country, aside from a meaningless 3-1 win in a friendly match in 2003.

England has every right to be unnerved by the prospect, for a number of reasons. The first is that it is in no way a remote fantasy.The way our two groups fall, there is a very real chance that it could happen.

In our Group, Group D, it’s Germany and daylight for the top spot. But second place is looking more and more like a coin toss.

The Socceroos, under the dour command of Pim Verbeek, are unlikely to release a commemorative highlights reel from their friendly matches this past week, but who cares. They came from behind to beat the Kiwis 2-1 and dispatched Denmark 1-0 in a match which stood as a testament to our defensive depth. Our group D rivals have had a shocking run – Ghana has come off a 4-1 thumping by the Netherlands in Amsterdam, while unpredictable Serbia lost 0-1 to New Zealand’s All Whites and drew 0-0 with the unfancied Poland. Friendlies don’t count for much but they do point to cohesion and momentum and of the three teams in Group D you would currently be just as happy, and marginally happier, wearing the Green and Gold than going for the Ghanians or the Serbs.

England, in contrast, have no real worries in terms of qualification. Pitted against the USA, Algeria and Slovenia, the Poms should be able to top the group while standing on their hanky-hatted heads. It will be deeply surprising if they lose a single first stage game.

It’s here where the fun will begin. The winner of Group D plays the runner up from Group B.

From a psychological point of view, I know which team I would prefer to be on. Australia will have absolutely nothing to lose. No sane punter will be putting serious money on us. Given our forward structure there will be no weight of expectation that we will win; given our defensive strength, there will be no real fear that we will be smashed or humbled. Having gone as close as we did to knocking Italy out of the tournament in 2006, cruelled in the final minute by Lucas Neill’s minor tangle with the leaping Grosso, the Socceroos will approach the game aiming to go one better as a rank New World outsider taking on another giant of the game.

England, conversely, will be a bundle of nerves. Aside from having a strange natural disposition towards heroic defeat in the sporting arena – Tim Henman being the epitome of the gallant Englishman who has mastered the art of almost making the semis at every Wimbledon – there are two deeply unnerving historical facts that will gnaw at the English team, its feral media and its zealous fans.

The first is the fact that Australia has consistently grown an extra yard for any sporting contest with the Brits. Like some murderous Oedipal complex, winning seems to mean more to us than it does to them.

While the past couple of Ashes series do not warrant lengthy mention – except to poke fun at the English for knighting its entire team, such was their surprise at having finally won a series after an almost 20-year drought – the historical ledger falls massively in our favour. It was for this reason that the Beijing Olympics were such an aberration, where the English, having embraced a Soviet-era sports funding model, managed to pip us in the medal tally - a result which will hopefully never be repeated, now that our own government has made the welcome decision to channel obscene amounts of cash back into elite sport rather than wasting extra money on luxuries such as hospitals or schools.

The second is that, aside from our own history of beating the Poms at games that they themselves invented, the English football team has an unfortunate tradition of finding heart-breakingly creative ways to exit the World Cup.

In 1986 they were trundled out by two goals from Diego Maradona, the first with his hand – he later explained that it seemed fair revenge for the War in the Falklands – the second from a pirouetting solo miracle run which made the English defence look like fools and was so mind-blowingly good that it almost erased the controversy surrounding the Hand of God outrage.

In 1990 they almost lost to Cameroon, led by an aged pensioner called Roger Milla, only to lose on penalties to Germany in the semis. In 2002 they lost to Brazil when goalkeeper David Seaman was standing off his line and watched a cheeky lob from Ronaldinho float gently over his head.

In 2006 Wayne Rooney stomped on Ricardo Carvalho’s wedding tackle and was red-carded, with the 10-man side going out to Portugal. Again, this supposedly cruel exit gave the Brits plenty of excellent material for a lengthy period of maudlin national introspection, and ruminations as to what might have been. The Sun labelled Cristiano Ronaldo a “slippery Portuguese winker” after he playfully winked at the referee as if to say thank you for buying Carvalho’s testicle-grabbing theatrics and sending Rooney to the bench. The newspaper even went to the trouble of providing pull-out Ronaldo dartboards so that the fans could vent their anger before getting back to watching Coronation Street and eating hot chips.

Losing to the likes of Argentina, Germany and Portugal is one thing. At least they’re proper footballing nations. This is only our third World Cup. We spent much of the last one celebrating the fact that, unlike in 1974, we had actually managed to score a goal.

It’s for that reason that we won’t fear the English. And given their track record, losing to Australia in South Africa seems an almost predictable next chapter in the very British tale of continuous sporting heartbreak.

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37 comments

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    • paul says:

      07:11am | 07/06/10

      nice thought - never happen.  see that friendly against the USA?  We defended like my over 35’s Sunday morning team…which is to say, not very well.  I want us to do as well as anyone but we will be battling to get out of the group.  I take your point about Ghana and Serbia’s volatility but we look pretty dependent on a forward setup that only exists in abstract because Pim can’t/won’t risk Kewell and Emerton until the finals start.  that’s probably a necessary gamble but means we will be fairly rusty.  I hope you are right and we get to the England match…but even if we do, do you think Capello - an Italian with less sentiment than a pile of gravel and possessed of a strategic mind like a titanium bear trap - knows or cares about the Australian/English tradition?  Especially as it is rooted in cricket?!  This isn’t to say the Poms wouldn’t be scared of losing to us - but it would be because they are terrified of Capello’s awesome fury, not because it would add another chapter to the England - Australia sporting story.  All that said - C’mon Sheilaroos!

    • LFC says:

      11:36am | 07/06/10

      I cant really see Australia troubling England should they even make it that far. Pims formation leaves little attacking options and dropping Nicky ‘highlights’ Carle gives us issues around creativity. I would of thought Tommy Oar would be a nice addition to give us somthing different - but Pim put the brakes on that too.
      With all my negativity, Pim must be praised for getting us qualified - the real issue is we are in the hardest group. Pitted against German efficentcy, Ghanaian flair and Serbian strength we will battle to get results.
      I flew to Germany for our last world cup - and our boys were labeled “Legends” what the press failed to highlight is they only won one game (against Japan).
      It is a battle to get out of the group but a win and a draw might be enough to face off against Gerrard and his mongrel mates..!

    • stevie says:

      07:18am | 07/06/10

      No sane punter would put money on Australia getting past the first round David. USA 3 - Australia 1 - say no more..

    • Macca says:

      09:01am | 07/06/10

      Serbia 0-1 to NZ?

    • geo says:

      07:27am | 10/06/10

      Anyone who knows anything about pre-World Cup friendlies, knows that the results are not important. It is how the individual preparations of each team are going, the fitness and the way they are playing. Only the coach and the players know the real story, and in our case the 3-1 result did not seem to cause any real concern.  To simplify this for the AFL fan, it is kind of like the NAB cup. Capiche?

    • andrew says:

      08:21am | 07/06/10

      I’d actually forgotten about the World Cup until missing out on a $2 Socceroos scarf with the newspaper. Every Australian sports code borrows from cricket’s Australia-England rivalry, but I can think of better ways to sell tickets to a market that’s moved on from a post-war mentality.

    • KH says:

      08:57am | 07/06/10

      How do you know it wasn’t a tactic?!  Better to let the nerves off now than next week….............Personally, I’m not worried…........Australia has that amazing tendency to lift for big events - it’s like having a couple of extra guys on the park.  I know our guys will sweat blood if they have to next week - don’t underestimate that.  And don’t ever underestimate the importance of being the ‘underdog’ - the USA don’t have anything to proove in a sport they consider to be a womens game.  We on the other hand, have this ridiculous desire to win everything….......

    • russey says:

      08:59am | 07/06/10

      Getting ahead of yourself penbo. We have to make it past the group stage before thinking about England.

    • Macca says:

      09:08am | 07/06/10

      As so many of the friendlies have shown (Ghana only just beating Latvia, France Losing to China, Italy losing to Mexico and Spain only managing to put 1 past Korea) anything can happen in Football.

      You can be the 2nd best side for 89 minutes (or 77 as happened in Germany against Japan) and stil get a win.

      Whilst I wouldn’t have Money on us making the Round 16, it is far from unlikely.

    • The Cricket says:

      01:51pm | 07/06/10

      I watched a replay of that japan match the other day out of nostalgia. We dominated possession and created way more shots on goal and chances. So while we were behind on the score-board for most of the match, we certainly weren’t second best.

    • wolf says:

      09:17am | 07/06/10

      Penbo to be honest I can’t see us scoring once the tournament gets underway.  Pims insistance on a 4-2-3-1 formation is stifling the players natural game and ensuring we dont have the firepower up front to seriously pressure any competant defence without leaving ourselves seriously compromised at the back.

    • Macca says:

      09:18am | 07/06/10

      BTW, good to have you on the bandwagon, Penbo, plenty of room for more

    • Jurgen Jones says:

      09:24am | 07/06/10

      Heavan help us when Lucas Neill is all we have to defend ourselves against the likes of Ghana and Serbia, not to mention Germany. If you think that Ghana and Serbia are beneath us my friend, then think again, once the competition starts you will change your mind rest assured!...England V Australia?? maybe when we host the World Cup, we can stage a friendly for the opening, but the two shall never meet in this campaign.

    • wolf says:

      11:02am | 07/06/10

      Agreed.  While Moore was better in the game against USA (especially in the first 20 minutes) he was shown up any time a player with genuine pace ran at him.  Beauchamp has looked a lot better than Moore in all the warmup games yet he’ll be lucky to get any time on the field once the tournament starts.
      This leaves us doubly exposed because most of our dangerous looking forward movements have come courtesy of Chipperfield and Wilkshire - the guys on the defensive flank.

    • Mr Pastry says:

      09:24am | 07/06/10

      Pim doesn’t care anymore - he’s off to train 15 year old Morrocan’s.  If that is preferable to coaching a good national side, there is something structurally wrong somewhere. Round 2? -  dreamtime.

    • Biff says:

      10:10am | 07/06/10

      I keep saying that we can’t play soccer. Leave it to the Europeans, Africans, and South Americans. Those regions know how to play the game. Let’s concentrate on the ball games we are good at and let’s toss money at those games where we just need a little push to put us on the top shelf. Australians can’t play soccer.

    • roundage says:

      11:00am | 07/06/10

      yeah lets stick to being top shelf at rugby league and aussie rules ... you’re missing out on a whole world of football out there, Biff.

    • Drewboy says:

      11:04am | 07/06/10

      Yeh nice one Biff, lets pump all our money into sports that the rest of the world hardly plays.

      Let’s think outside our little backyard for once.

    • Kel says:

      11:47am | 07/06/10

      I guess you missed the last world cup then Biff? Australians can, and do, excel at any sport we apply ourselves to.

    • Kent says:

      01:12pm | 07/06/10

      But Biff, didn’t you get the Craig Foster memo? Apparently no sport is valid unless it’s played in Europe, South America and Africa.  Apparently people will like us more and we’ll be more important if we allow ourselves to be bored to tears rather than watch those exciting Australian sports. Apparently money spent producing world class sportsmen in any sport other than soccer is a waste.  Apparently 100-200 million taxpayer dollars thrown at soccer for negligible results and to the benefit of a billionaires privately owned hobby is a good thing. Surely you can see this?

      You must be one of those insular Australians to which Craig Foster so lovingly refers.

    • ad says:

      04:36pm | 07/06/10

      ditto. poor family. i does, indeed, show us what’s really important

    • Warren says:

      11:35am | 07/06/10

      Thinking about matches beyond the group stage is the kind of mistake the poms would make. The next three matched will be tough for Australia, thinking about anything else would be very foolish.

    • Clem says:

      12:11pm | 07/06/10

      Quite right. England have a tendency to think that they are to win because they deserve it, that it’s their destiny, as though victory is in the hands of the football gods. We don’t want to fall into that trap. Winning never follows a pattern and more often than not will spoil a good story. I bet England gets knocked off by the US anyway.

    • Anjuli says:

      01:57pm | 07/06/10

      If you don’t expect then you can’t be disappointed, may be if we stop putting so much pressure on the team then they just might get past the 2nd round even.Look what happened to Sam Stosur, The pressure must have been enormous ,so lets all try to be positive without letting them think that if they lose they are failures, if you can do any better then do it yourselves.

    • kel says:

      02:24pm | 07/06/10

      totally agree. At the last world cup, there was a sense of just being thrilled we had qualified, and look how well they did!!
      This year, there’s a different mood around…
      I

    • S says:

      02:07pm | 07/06/10

      According to my wall chart here, England is actually in Group C.

      Winner of Group C plays second place from Group D.

    • Steely Dan says:

      04:39pm | 07/06/10

      You’re right, S.

      I presume that’s what Penbo was trying to say.

    • stephen says:

      02:41pm | 07/06/10

      Saw a replay last night of the Matildas winning the Asian Cup, but really, our girls appeared a bit unfit. They looked tired at least 20 minutes from full-time.
      Good game to watch, though.

    • Macca says:

      03:35pm | 07/06/10

      They were probably all tired from having to earn a living working

    • S.L says:

      04:10pm | 07/06/10

      I hate to say it but England are in the best position they have been in years to get the gong. Forget that Lampard and Gerard, two of the most skillfull midfielders in the game, mix like oil and water when they are on the same side. Forget the fact that Rooney can be as cold as he can be hot and forget what Penbo has mentioned before about the rath of a feral press should they choke again.
      For us lets hope we can get a result against the other two because after what I saw against the USA I don’t think I’ll bother getting out of bed on the 14th!

    • a d says:

      04:42pm | 07/06/10

      as someone who has supported England my entire life, never doubt our ability to lose (albeit heroically) in any situation. I call it the Henman principle.

      as with the last world cup, England has a great team on paper, but we can’t win on penalties and the squad’s already dropping like flies through injury

    • S.L says:

      06:59pm | 07/06/10

      I just heard the team found out about Brad Jones son just before kick off. My thoughts are with his family and I can only imagine how the rest of the crew felt like during the game against the USA.

    • Steve Putnam says:

      08:37pm | 07/06/10

      Get real David! Australia, despite playing a man up for 90 minutes, didn’t look like scoring against Italy. The penalty was a travesty but so was the sending off. The socceroos exit from the last world had all the hallmarks of tragi-comedy you’ve ascribed to England teams of past world cups. On a more important note lets all say a little prayer for Brad Jones’s son; hope he recovers & sees his father in the no1 shirt for his country!

    • ja says:

      08:49pm | 07/06/10

      i hope we can make it to the england game, as they will surely finish top. i am worried we are relying on a pretty defensive strategy and a star player likely to break down again…hmmm, i do think players like cahill, grella, neill, emerton and wilkshire will grow hearts the size of pharlap though as has been eluded too and this will get us through. if pims strategy works to perfection we jag a draw against as weak a team as germany have put out for a few world cups and then anything can happen in the other two games. ghana remains our best chance to win with out essien in there and the serbians, depending on what happens in there first two games could do anything…

    • Daniel says:

      02:03am | 09/06/10

      I don’‘t care about soccer (or if you must football), however if we end up playing the poms I’ll be watching every minute of it praying we win.

      Smelly Poms

    • Izabelle says:

      04:07pm | 11/07/12

      Australians have a lot to be proud of in their team.  As ever the Ozzies have the right attitude, sport means eiteyrhvng to you, and you give it your best’ and never say die’.  Cliches I know but England only seem to play like this when the chips really are down.  Best of luck in 4 years time, I think you could go a lot further.  You’ve got the mentality.

 

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