Once Again, With Feeling
LONDON--It's the biennial British cringe.
A defeat in a major international soccer event - either Euro or the World Cup - followed nearly immediately by a turn in attention to the possibility that Scotland's Andy Murray will end Great Britain's long, long wait for a males singles champion at Wimbledon.
"i don't understand you guys because he's from Scotland and you're British," said Russian veteran Nikolay Davydenko, Murray's first round opponent today, while intentionally poking a little fun at U.K. national sensibilities.
"He is Scottish. Haven't you had a war for 100 years with Scotland?"
Today, the post-mortem over England's penalty kicks loss to Italy in Kiev on Sunday was in full bloom with, remarkably, only manager Roy Hodgson excaping the usual scathing critiques from the British press and former Englisher footballers.
What went wrong? Not enough Wayne Rooney, and questions about why he took a Vegas vacation at the end of the English Premiership season. Not enough Jack Wilshere. Not enough ball possession (39 per cent against the Italians). Too much reliance on a defence-first, 4-4-2 alignment that left the midfield chasing all the time. No break in the English season to give the best footballers a break. Why Cristian Ronaldo has as many shots on goal as the entire English team. Why the Spanish complete more passes in a game than the English do in a tournament. Not enough emphasis on skill to counter the Andrea Pirios of the world stage.
"A very defensive team," said the Italian star after his country's 4-2 triumph. "It's just a shame we took so long to beat them and used up a lot of energy."
It was the seventh time in eight major internationals decided by penalty kicks that the English have lost, and that's a debate all on its own. We may debate why Wayne Gretzky didn't get to shoot in Nagano in 1998, but this is a country that can't get anybody to score, any year.
Shamefully, and in echoes of the vicious treatment accorded Joel Ward in the Stanley Cup playoffs, English stars Ashley Cole and Ashley Young were slagged in social media with all variety of racial epithets for missing their penalties, causing the Football Association to come to their aid.
"They have just given everything for the national team at Euro 2012 and it is appalling and unacceptable that messages of an abusive type are being posted," said the FA in a release.
English fans appear to love Hodgson because he makes the lads sing the national anthem and because, well, he's English, not Italian or Swedish. Hodgson is promising "revolution" in tactics and personnel before the next friendly in Bern, Switzerland against the same Italians, and then will come World Cup qualifying matches on the road in Moldova and at home against Ukraine, both in the fall.
There is, of course, a predictable nature to these self-flagellating reviews that follow each and every national setback.
"Behind the scenes, however, the radical restructuring must start today to ensure the next generation can aspire to something more," wrote former national team member Jamie Carragher in The Guardian. "If not, we will all be making precisely the same observations at the end of the 2022 World Cup."
So now British lonely eyes turn to Murray. Youngster Heather Watson gave the Brits something to cheer about on Monday night by becoming the first British woman to win on Centre Court in a quarter-century, but Murray is the one with all the attention.
Bookies have him at 12-1, a longer shot than in other years, and his association with new coach Ivan Lendl started with a bang but seems to have levelled off. Murray seems to have been at No. 4 in the world forever, and seemingly unable to knock off one of the The Big Three to break through and win a major.
So this biennial cringe is a half-hearted lament for English football and a half-hearted hope for Murray. Half-hearted, but certainly dependable every two years.