Sunday, July 02, 2006

"It's not the despair. I can cope with the despair. It's the hope..."

Who said the Germans have no sense of humour?
In that fraught waiting-game between final whistle and fatal shoot-out, the speakers started blaring out “Que sera, sera, whatever will be, will be…”
Except the England fans lustily singing along surely, deep down, realised that what will be, will be yet more penalty pain.
Thankfully, the mischievous German DJs had the good grace not to follow up with Oops, I Did It Again.
For this was the most predictably depressing déjà vu – all over, all over again.
The 52,000-capacity Gelsenkirchen stadium – unofficially labelled ‘six-star’ by Sepp Blatter – had been smothered in bright English crimson rather than deep Portuguese port.
But within minutes of Ronado’s final flourish past Paul Robinson, the red swathes were breaking up into patchy seats of blue.
Some, understandably, wanted to flee the scene of the crying as soon as possible.
Others, equally so, could not bring themselves to move a muscle more than the tear ducts.
Yet some 30 minutes after the defeat, some last dregs of defiance rose from the depths to swell into a last chorus of “England! (clap-clap-clap) England! (clap-clap-clap)”.
Earlier, those same voices had been hailing that unlikely hero, “One Owen Hargreaves, there’s only one Owen Hargreaves”.
Even earlier, they had urged the ranting Luis Felipe Scolari to “sit down, shut up”, before demanding: “Who the f***ing hell are you?”
The World Cup-winning coach who holds the tournament record for consecutive wins, for a start.
The manager who embarrassed the FA by turning down England’s advances.
And the man who has now knocked England out of the last three competitions.
That’s who he is.
It was certainly a humbler, if darkly satirical, mood which was settling on England supporters as they grudgingly flew home yesterday.
One sun-braised supporter in Cologne, between mouthfuls of airport breakfast, insisted on re-enacting Wayne Rooney’s fateful stamp-and-shove routine.
Unsurprisingly, his bleary mates were reluctant to play the panto villain parts of Cristiano Ronaldo and the fertility-threatened Carvalho.
Another group steeled their stomachs for the flight by ordering a round of 5am beers.
“Klein oder gross?”, the unperturbed waiter parried.
Gross, of course.
At least absent from this airport were the fans who had inexplicably turned up to the game in shirts branded “Bin Laden 06” on the back, and Osama rubber masks on their faces.
The jubilant, jovial Germans will surely miss the (mostly) benignly rowdy England fans they have cheerily indulged.
The much-mocked team, however, will not be much-mourned.
It seemed sadly apt for England’s so-called “golden generation” to have its World Cup dreams buried in the former mining stronghold of the Ruhr.
The likes of Hargreaves, Neville and Terry – and, of course, the Coles - dug deep in adversity here.
But for too much of this campaign to convince as credible world champions, Eriksson’s England were the pits.

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