The previous time England were booed off after a World Cup group game, it was 2010 and we had just witnessed a performance so bad that a bird perched on the roof of the opposition net during the first half, convinced it was Just found the safest. Location in Cape Town.
On that occasion, a team including John Terry, Ashley Cole, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and Wayne Rooney had a sad night, thanks to a 0-0 draw with Algeria, and England’s manager Fabio Capello feared: “The fear. What stops the legs, what stops the mind, what stops everything”.
Rooney, who went into the tournament with such high hopes, looked out of shape, out of form and out of sorts, his frustration boiling over at the final whistle when he heard England fans booing his team.
“Nice to see your home fans booing you,” he shouted, wittily, into a television camera. “You ‘loyal supporters’.”
In 2010 England was in the midst of a World Cup meltdown. Terry, who had been stripped of the captaincy four months earlier, announced in a press conference two days later that he and his teammates were going to voice their frustrations with Capello at a meeting that evening.
“If it upsets him or it upsets any player, so what? I really think, ‘Sod it,'” Terry said, to the surprise of many in his audience.
Capello stamped out the apparent insurrection and England beat Slovenia 1-0 in their final group game to scrap into the knockout stage. But by finishing second to the United States, they set themselves on course to face Germany in the round of 16. And there they were humiliated, beaten 4-1, and Terry, Gerrard, Rooney and their team-mates returned home as something approaching National pariah.
Qatar 2022 does not feel anything like South Africa 2010. There was inhibition in England’s game as they drew 0-0 with the US on Friday night, but it was not the “fear” that defined them in the late 2000s and through Much of the 2010s. There is no prospect of a disillusioned player threatening a mutiny against the manager, or indeed of a player responding to the fans’ howls of scorn by mocking their supposed loyalty to the cause.
Instead, what we got on Friday night were calm, level-headed reflections from the players who stopped to talk to reporters in the mixed zone.
“It was probably a fair result if I’m honest,” vice-captain Jordan Henderson told The athletic Then. “It was a difficult game. The USA did well and made it difficult for us, as we knew they would. A little disappointed that we didn’t score, but still a positive in the fact that we kept a clean sheet, so it’s not all doom and gloom. It’s a point and it’s still put in a good position and it’s in our hands for the next game.”
The buzz? “Obviously you have high expectations from this team and so do we,” the Liverpool midfielder said. “We came after the game and of course we’re disappointed because we want to win every time we play, but that’s not how football works sometimes. You have to give credit to the opposition and we always know it’s going to be difficult at a world Cap.
When asked about the boos, Henderson pointed out that the same thing happened at Wembley en route to the European Championship last year. “I think it was the second game we drew 0-0 against Scotland,” he said. “So there’s still a lot to play for, we’re still in a good position and we just need to go out and score a point in the next game.”
Like his manager’s response, it was perfectly measured. Maybe too measured and too calm for some tastes.
It was one of those England tournament performances that get people angry: the big build-up, the big expectations, the big emotional investment (and for the fans here in Qatar a huge financial investment) and then the big let-down.
Michael Cox and John Muller analyzed England’s performance here in depth: slow tempo; to risk-off in possession; The struggles of Kieran Trippier, Luke Shaw, Jude Bellingham and Mason Mount to make an impact going forward against a spirited, well-organised, talented US side. it. team that was intended to push them back; The conservative nature of Southgate’s substitutions, waiting 65 minutes before making two like-for-like changes and keeping Phil Foden and Trent Alexander-Arnold on the bench throughout.
The criticisms are legitimate, but so is the context offered in mitigation. “Obviously the fans want to see goals and win matches,” Trippier said. “Of course we understand the frustration because we didn’t win the game, but we gave everything. A point is a good result. Unfortunately, we didn’t win, but it’s a good point. We kept a clean sheet, it It’s a good point for us in the group and we just move on now. Focus on the next game.”
All true. The performance was disappointing, but a draw, on the back of a 6-2 win over Iran, left them all but guaranteed a place in the knockout stage. Even if Wales beat them by three goals on Tuesday, England would go through. Most teams in the tournament would gladly accept this scenario in their final group game; Argentina and Germany, beaten by Saudi Arabia and Japan respectively, certainly would.
This is certainly not a 2010 scenario – let alone a repeat of four years later, when England were out after two games, beaten by Italy and Uruguay. This was a much tougher group in 2014 and the pool of talent available to Roy Hodgson was far less appealing than it is now for Southgate, but expectations were also significantly lower; After a dreadful 0-0 draw in their final game in Brazil, a dead rubber against Costa Rica, England’s players were warmly applauded away by the fans who had traveled so far and spent so much and were given so little to cheer.
Two years later in Nice they were knocked out of the European Championship by Iceland. Now that one did Attract an angry, almost incredulous reaction from the fans. How can it not? It was a calamitous performance without structure, purpose and belief, no mental cohesion or skill. If there was ever a time when England fans were entitled to boo and cheer their team, it was in the mid-2010s.
Between 2010 and 2016, England played 15 tournament matches and won just four (against Slovenia, Sweden, Ukraine and Wales) and never by more than a one-goal margin. The unexpected run to the World Cup semi-finals in 2018 came with caveats about the standard of the opposition, but they overcame Tunisia, Panama, Colombia (on penalties) and Sweden in the tournament and beat Croatia, Czech Republic, Germany, Ukraine and Denmark At the Euros before losing to Italy on penalties in the final.
In this context, it feels as if England’s fans have developed a remarkably low tolerance for underperformance, booing them off after mediocre displays but decent results that leave the team in a strong position. Maybe Friday night was a legacy of a very disappointing Nations League (six games, three draws, three defeats, including a 4-0 thrashing at home by Hungary), but because the same reaction followed the draw against Scotland at the Euros, Maybe it’s just a case of a fanbase feeling entitled to demand better.
Perfectly natural, of course; It can be difficult to look at the young talent in this squad – both those on the field and those left on the bench, such as Foden and Alexander-Arnold – and accept such an unknown performance.
That frustration is partly down to the approach. Southgate’s style is fairly cautious – not covering defense by any means, but safety-first for the most part. They played with freedom when they beat Iran 6-2 on Monday, but on Friday night it was very much a case of hand brokenness. And when you play with the handbrake on and fail to win, it causes agitation, especially when you have so many attacking players at your disposal.
But the games take place in tournaments; Take a look through England’s World Cup history and the 6-2 win over Iran seems much more of an outlier than a 0-0 draw with the US.
It is encouraging that Southgate and his players responded more calmly on Friday – both to how the game played out and the disappointment the fans expressed at the final whistle – than England’s players did in Cape Town 12 years ago. There are many things that their performance lacks, but at no point are they frozen by fear or get frustration like Rooney against Algeria.
It was something Southgate said afterwards: “People will react how they will react. I can’t let that affect how I feel. This is the tournament of external noise, and we will have another layer of I’m sure, but we’re still on track.
“The tournament of external noise” is a great line. There have been many previous tournaments in the past when England have been overwhelmed by the noise – particularly the noise from the media – but under Southgate they have been pretty good at blocking it out and rising above it.
Once the noise starts, the only way to stop it amplifying is by wining. This is Southgate’s third tournament and, after creating a more upbeat soundtrack in the previous two, he and his team need to keep the good vibes going. If not, they will just have to face the music.
(Top photo: Berengui/DeFodi Images via Getty Images)