Saturday, 26 June 2010

England's dream route to the World Cup final: Germany on pens, Argentina by the Hand of God, Portugal's winkers... then Brazil on a flukey free-kick

Ah, England versus Germany on a sunny Sunday afternoon in Bloemfontein. Magical memories for any football fan. Right back to that day in 1966 when England beat the western half of the old enemy 4-2 in extra-time to win the World Cup at Wembley.
Since then of course, we've had 44 years of hurt at the World Cup, punctuated by numerous defeats against the old enemy. There was the 1970 turnaround when Gerd Muller turned a 2-0 deficit into a 3-2 quarter-final win in Mexico.
There was the penalty shoot-out nightmare of the semi-final at Italia 90, followed by the same thing at Euro 96.
The last game at the old Wembley, a 1-0 defeat which saw Kevin Keegan resign, but that was followed by the incredible 5-1 triumph at Munich in qualifying for the 2002 World Cup.
Today, we are told England's retailers are praying for victory. The sales of beers, vuvuzelas and replica shirts could rise to over £2billion if the Three Lions roar past Germany and go all the way to the finish line. Every goal from here on in is estimated to be worth £126m to the nation.
Don't discount the political impact either. If Wayne Rooney and Co find a route through the German defence, new Prime Minister David Cameroon will enjoy an undeserved boost in the polls and the feel-good factor will sweep a nation suffering severe recessionary gloom.
England's finest hour? Bloemfontein may well be just that.
But it's not just Germany is it? Argentina will probably loom in the quarter-finals, Portugal look favourites to get to the semi... and Brazil generally get to the final. All hold peculiar images of their own. Controversies surround all four of England's possible upcoming opponents.
Here then, the dream route past Germany and on to Soccer City and that grand finale.

You don't have to be that old to remember the semi-final in Rome, 1990. A pulsating game, a Gary Lineker goal, Paul Gascoigne's tears when he was booked and knew he would miss the final.
But it never came to that. Stuart Pearce and Chris Waddle missed during the penalty shoot-out, which became the subject of a pizza advert and a flurry of films, plays and documentaries.
Twenty years later, having gone out the Germans in similar fashion on home soil at Euro 96 and Argentina on David Batty's miss at France 98, the nightmare of a penalty shoot-out still haunts English football.
But we've been working on it ever since. Allegedly. The teutonically efficient Germans are beginning to crack from the spot.
Serbia, another historical enemy, shocked Joachim Loew's men in their second game at this tournament. Their 1-0 win owed much to Lukas Podolski's missed penalty easily denied by Vladimir Stojkovic.
That was their first failure from 12 yards since Uli Hoeness in 1974 against Poland.
It's an omen. England, fielding their oldest line-up in a World Cup since 1954, will hold Germany, boasting their youngest squad since 1974, to a goalless draw. And in the shoot-out, David James will cry Gazza-tears when he saves the vital penalty from Miroslav Klose to send the Three Lions roaring into the quarter-finals.
Queen Elizabeth II will run naked down the mall, flanked by guardsmen throwing their busbies into the air. Winston Churchill will rise from the grave with an impassioned speech about "our finest hour" and the second week of Wimbledon will be called off in celebration. Woo hoo!

Take your mind back even further than the aforementioned penalty shoot-out against Germany. A rapidly improving England side, with Gary Lineker on fire, have reached the quarter-finals against Argentina and Diego Maradona.
With the Falklands War still casting a shadow over relations between the two nations, Maradona goes up with the vastly experienced (and much taller) Peter Shilton to contest a bouncing ball in the box. And Diego wins the duel.
How? We ask, with some justification. And the truth soon emerges. Diddy Diego has got the edge over Shilton with his left hand. He goes on to score a sensational solo second goal, England come roaring back but go out 2-1.
Afterwards Maradona says it was "The Hand of God" than than his grubby little paw. Now in charge of Argentina's 2010 bid, Maradona is certifiably crazy after years of abusing himself, journalists and his pet dog.
Passionate, charismatic... but bonkers. He has the best squad on the planet, including the tiny Lionel Messi, and has qualified from Group B with a perfect nine points.
Assuming Argentina beat Mexico and England see off Germany, the two nations will meet again here on July 3 in Cape Town.
What better way for this one to end than a long ball from John Terry, up goes Wayne Rooney and... GOOOOOOOOAL! It's England through to the semi-finals, but don't look too closely at the replays.
Yes, Rooney, with a little help from his arm. Afterwards the Terror from Toxteth admits: "It was the Hand of Gold". Buenos Aires is a sea of tears. London and land of laughs.
Somewhere in the Green Point tunnel, Diego is seen punching walls with that fateful left hand, preparing a suitably disgusting parting shot for his nation's media.

And now cast your minds back to four years ago. England are in the quarter-finals yet again. The Golden Generation, led by Wayne Rooney with David Beckham, Frank Lampard, Michael Owen and Steve Gerrard in support, are up against Portugal in Gelsenkirchen.
Manchester United's Cristiano Ronaldo is their icon, just as he is at South Africa, 2010.
The game is, predictably, fast and furious. Rooney, Ronaldo's best pal at Old Trafford, brings down Chelsea's Ricardo Carvalho. Referee Horacio Elizondo moves in. Ronaldo has a word. Rooney is sent off.
Then Ronaldo, quite clearly, winks at the Portuguese bench. Job done. Rooney gone.
And to rub salt on that particular wound, Ronaldo scores the vital penalty in the shoot-out to put England out. His joy is unrestrained. His United team-mate is inconsolable.
Though Rooney and Ronaldo managed to rescue their friendship, footballing justice suggests a reversal of this scenario if, as hoped, the two sides meet again in the semi-final at Durban's marvellous Moses Mabhida Stadium on July 7.
Here's how this one goes: Late in the game, 0-0, it's an England corner. Ronaldo, good in their air, is given the task of marking Rooney, who had a golden period with his forehead early this season.
Up they go. Rooney tumbles, Ronaldo pleads his innocence. But the referee points to the spot. Rooney has a word. Ronaldo is red carded. Rooney steps up and sticks the penalty away to make it 1-0 with seconds on the clock.
England are through to their first World Cup final, the arched stadium is in uproar as Rooney walks past the tearful Portuguese... with a wink for the cameras. Justice.

England in the last eight again, 2002 in Shizuoka, pronounced in quite a vulgar way ever since by unforgiving fans. The opponents? Brazil, who would go on to win the World Cup.
Michael Owen (remember him?) put England ahead after 23 minutes, but Rivaldo levelled right on half-time. Then the fateful moment, five minutes into the second half.
Ronaldinho, buck-toothed and pony-tailed, stepped up for a free-kick 35 yards out on the right flank. His long, curling effort catches David "safe hands" Seaman off his line.
The legendary Arsenal goalkeeper blunders backwards, clawing at thin air. The ball flies into the top corner. "Fluke!" yelled I, "Brilliant!" screamed the world. Ronaldinho, sent off eight minutes later, has always insisted he meant it. I'm not so sure. I reckon it was a mighty bit of luck. Seaman just dissolved into tears, his international career over.
That's why, if England get past Germany, Argentina and Portugal (that's a repeatedly huge IF), they deserve a bit of something similar in the final at Soccer City on July 11.
There will be 96,000 people (including, FIFA permitting, me) in the stadium and Brazil look most likely to get there, trying to issue team orders over the din of the vuvuzelas.
This time my crystal ball shows a deadlock, let's say 2-2 with five minutes to play. Frank Lampard, who scores 20 goals a season for Chelsea but too few for England, steps up to take a free-kick near the halfway line with the ultra-light Jabulani ball. He gives it the big hoof... and you know what happens next.
Julio Cesar, the normally impeccable Inter Milan goalkeeper, suddenly realises he's been beaten by the flight of the Jabulani at high altitude.
He stumbles, clawing the air. But the ball nestles neatly in the top corner.
England have won the World Cup. Lampard admits afterwards: "It was a bit of a fluke, it just flew," but nothing can detract from a sensational last-gasp victory.
It's over. Those 44 years of hurt are behind us. The 1990 penalty shoot-out against Germany matters no more. Diego's Hand of God is avenged. Ronaldo can wink all he wants.
England are CHAMPIONS OF THE WORLD. Perhaps we should have started this one with "Once upon a time..." but, hey. We can dream.


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  3. what a match it was between England and Germany ....
    i was never watch such type of match in my past.....
    and congratulation England by winning it

  4. what a match it was between England and Germany ....
    i was never watch such type of match in my past.....
    and congratulation England by winning it