June 9th, 2006

International Kittens of Mystery

World Cup

It starts today and for the next month the world, with the possible exception of the US and Antarctica, will come to a halt while fans watch, worry, remonstrate, talk, dream and re-enact the great moments from the beautiful game.

And, for the first time since 1970, England have a realistic chance of winning. But England being England we will undoubtedly choose the difficult route. I'm not sure why we do it - it could be genetic, a national predisposition towards making things difficult - but whatever sport we try (even the ones we invented) we like to give the other teams a start.

In 1970 we were defending champions. We had the best goalkeeper in the world, the best defender, we'd almost beaten Brazil in the group stage and even against Pele I thought we had a good chance of overturning that result if we met in the final. So what do we do? We give our goalkeeper food poisoning the night before the quarter final against Germany just to even things up. Then, leading 2-0 and with 20 minutes left to play, we take off our best players to save them for the next round. Result - we lose 3-2.

And it happens year after year. We hardly ever win the first match in the group stage - that would be too easy - we prefer to struggle through to the last match in the group, fill as many cardiac wards as possible with nervous fans, then stage a last minute fightback to win the group. Then we cut loose in the knock-out stage, play the opposition off the park for 30 minutes, score a couple of goals and ... self destruct. Key players get themselves sent off for something ridiculous, or get injured. And our goalkeepers are magnetically drawn away from the goal lines so that bizarre goals (one by Brazil, one by Germany) fly over their heads into the net. And if all that fails we take it in turn to kick the ball over the bar in the penalty shoot out.

I think it's Fate way of saying the Russian linesman should not have allowed England's third goal in the 1966 World Cup final. Certainly Fate has been against us since. Perfectly good goals scored by us have been disallowed and Maradonna's 'Hand of God' was allowed to stand.

So, who's going to win this year? My prediction is that it will be a surprise. No one thought Greece would win the European Championship and I think there'll be some big teams knocked out early. But the biggest surprise (kiss of death alert) ... I think England'll win it. But they'll fill several cardiac wards in the process.