The date is the 1st of July 2006. England and Portugal have been inseparable in 120 minutes of tension-crammed football and now penalties are the only way to find a winner. Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher have missed their penalties for the Three Lions, meaning Cristiano Ronaldo has the chance to put his country through. He takes it.
As we sulked into our tear-filled pint glasses afterwards, we all asked the questions. What if? What if Lampard had tucked away his volley in the second half? Or what if Crouch had buried his extra time header? And then there’s Rooney. Oh Wayne, what if you’d have kept your cool? What if Cristiano hadn’t tried to get you sent off? That gullible referee. That pesky referee. We always get rubbish refs.
We deserved to win really.
There are 51 days until the biggest tournament in football, and arguably sport as a whole, kicks off. Around 200 countries try to get there, but only 32 of the best make it. The last one in 2006 saw the audience for the entire tournament total 26 billion. And at the start of it, the English thought they had more than a chance of finishing as number one in the world.
The same happened in 2002. And 1998. And just about every World Cup that England have qualified for since deciding to start competing back in 1950. The truth is that we are never as good as we think we are.
It is always a ‘bottler’ of a referee, a diving ‘foreigner’, a lucky bounce or the clichéd ‘lottery’ of a penalty shootout that stood in the way between England and world domination.
So what is going to be different this time? Well, here we are at the start of it with an excellent qualifying record, an experienced coach and a set of players that the press joyously celebrate as ‘some of the best in the world’. It all sounds very familiar.
Sorry to put a downer on it all. Enjoy the World Cup everybody. And the predestined penalty shootout defeat. What if, eh?Tweet