England expects is the sentiment that usually sets the mood in advance of a World Cup. The trouble is, years of expectation have met with bitter disappointment and vitriolic media trolling of some poor penalty misser or, more commonly, manager. The treatment meted out to Beckham was so disproportionate to his crime as to deem it laughable. But Becks wasn’t laughing.
Of course I view all this through the prism of a different kind of expectation. That of failure. As a Scotsman I’ve become inured to the symptoms of defeat. As a footballing nation we almost revel in it.
It’s funny to look back on our own little moment of expectation and how we were just as guilty of media hype when Ally McLeod took his Tartan Army to Argentina buoyed with the kind of critical helium that England experiences almost every four years. (In actual fact it wasn’t so fanciful. At the time FIFA ranked Scotland as world number 7. We really were rather good.)
But Rio 2014 has been different. That whole ABE (Anyone But England) thing that Scots are accused of rarely reflects the feeling we have for the English team. It’s a reaction to the ridiculous reality blindness that so many commentators, qualified or otherwise, typically have about England’s chances.
But, as I say, Rio is different. A young squad, a realistic and even-tempered manager, with a distinct palour of modesty, has almost universally quashed the hyperbole.
And then; a great performance against Italy whilst the Uruguayans stumbled badly.
This should have been met with a gentle drawing in of breath and a gathering of modest hope. But no, back came the trolls. Tearing Rooney apart almost limb from limb.
For being played out of position?
Was this his ‘crime’?
Looking to make him scapegoat for defeat to a ‘poor’ Italian side (a side, I have to say, that contains the player, Pirlo, who has put in the single best shift of this World Cup) despite the fact he put in an imperious cross to ‘golden boy’ Daniel Sturridge for England’s only goal.
Standing mostly on the outside of all this I see an England side who can punch above their expected weight. An England team that can easily beat Uruguay tonight and finish the group job against Costa Rica on a wave of ‘momentum’.
This was the England team that wasn’t meant to qualify from its group. I see it differently now and I wish all of my English colleagues and clients a jolly good night tonight.