And there I was, preparing to write something about the English being no good at the Eurovision Song Contest but by far the finest singers in this alternative global tournament.
But then – came the Argentines…
Tonight’s match against Holland wasn’t perhaps the classic, such an encounter between these two could and should have been in a knock-out round. Or if tonight’s game had any meaningful matters of qualification hinging upon it, other than who finished top and who second in Group D.
In fact, Holland may be the more pleased with a potential route offering up Portugal then England, rather than Argentina’s of Mexico and then, crucially, hosts Germany.
So for all the quality, the decorative passing from two sides flexing their squad muscles, a stalemate was always likely: some spasms of sparring, each weighing up the opponent but ultimately keeping something in reserve for more important days to come.
Not that Tevez and Messi didn’t fizz up-front for Argentina, nifty feet moving several times swifter than even the most watchful Dutch defenders. Riquelme was graceful, Cambiasso all-action.
But perhaps, on another day, a left-winger like Arjen Robben would have enjoyed taking on replacement right-back Coloccini, the crazy-haired hacker coming on early for the trampled-upon Burdisso.
But still… those fans. A Trivial Pursuit chunk-shaped bunch to our left, of bouncing blue-and-whites, twirling their Argentine sashes around their heads while bellowing out non-stop anthems, the odd swirl of ticker-tape fluttering down upon them.
Did I say ‘bellowing’? Too harsh – for this was an awesome roar which was also powerfully melodic. Thousands of voices in unison – but sounding as true as just the one, segueing wordless chants into hymnal glorification.
And they just wouldn’t shut up. Much like, also, the English – taking for granted a tradition of ‘sing-up-sing-up-and-play-the-game’, whether desperately trying to infuse our dirge-like national anthem with rousing joy (the linking ‘all together now’ surely not in the original lyrics), or the irresistible Great Escape, or the basics of ‘Ing-er-lund’ or ‘Roo-ney, Roo-ney’, or homely little tributes, tricked up by someone or other – ‘Steve Gerrard, Gerrard, he swings it from 40 yards – he’s big and he’s fookin’ ‘ard – Steve Gerrard, Gerrard…’
Like the flags pasted to blank space, all-out singing on this scale seems the domain, mainly, of just the English and the Argentines.
Germany’s following seem to peak too soon – sucking in hefty breaths to holler the surname of each selection as names are announced pre-match.
Number ten Michael – ‘BALLACK!’ Number eleven Miroslav – ‘KLOSE!’ Number 17 Bastian (deeper breath) ‘SCHWEINSTEIGER!’
But then, that done, the game tends to progress to a stable rumble, leaving the songs to the stereos.
Ah, Brazil give good noise too, of course – those stereotypical samba rhythms, when not whistling their own players for daring to pass back to the ‘keeper.
So Brazil lays down the percussion, Argentina supplies the tunes, England the bombardment of backing vocals.
There’s the sound – add Holland for the sight, those banks of orange advancing like several armies.
All advancing onwards, for now – Argentina in stylish ease, Holland skilful patience, Brazil doing just enough while still finding their magic feet…
And England – ah, what to say? Which England to see?
Hopefully not Sol Campbell, misleadingly solid enough for much of last night’s cameo, then dreadfully sloppy at the important last.
Sadly not Michael Owen, cursed ever since – silly boy – signing for Newcastle.
But ideally, much much more of the joyous Joe Cole, the wonderboy Wayne still an agonising fraction away from bringing off great thoughts, and bumblebee Lennon as a terrorising late arrival.
And also, it might be nice to have a little more variation from our should-be-deadly set-pieces.
See, for example, Sweden’s last night : a different tactic each time, near post, far post, penalty-spot – not just a hopeful chip across goal.
But above all else, please produce a performance on the pitch, to match that in the stands, when singalong Saturday comes…