England’s blandest display demonstrates they’re not top dog

Photo of author

By Creative Media News

One point was earned against two hours wasted. As England and the United States played to a tedious and forgettable scoreless draw, it was only logical to ponder how we could have spent this time more productively. Perhaps when the end finally arrives, when we are on our deathbeds preparing to take our last breath, we will reflect on the night we spent watching John Stones and Harry Maguire pass the ball to each other and softly lament the passage of time.

It was nearly as captivating in person as it would have been on television. The Al Bayt stadium moaned and rumbled. At the US end, a lone drummer pounded out a deadly rhythm. Stones and Maguire continued to pass the ball back and forth, with infrequent contributions from Luke Shaw and Kieran Trippier.

England's blandest display demonstrates they're not top dog
England's blandest display demonstrates they're not top dog

There was additional passing. Some more drumming. Empires rose and collapsed throughout history. The seas separated and then reunited. Everyone got a little older.

After the press conference, Gareth Southgate sat in his press conference chair, sipped water, and deflected a few questions. Andy Walker, media officer for the FA, flipped aimlessly through his phone next to him. Everyone merely went through the motions, doing what they knew how to do, and were pleased to avoid difficulty.

Possibly the lack of energy should not come as a surprise. Physically and emotionally, the Iran game was a grueling experience. England may have been lackluster in this match, but they did not falter or implode like other important nations in this tournament.

Even yet, it is difficult to recall an England tournament game that lacked such basic purpose, adventure, and dedication. The safest conclusion to take is that this is occasionally the case. England and Scotland played a similar game in 2021, and we all know how it ended. Believe in the process.

Blandest display
England's blandest display demonstrates they're not top dog

And yet, if one looked beneath the hood (bonnet for our American readers), one could observe a slightly more delicate process at work. It wasn’t simply the loss of sporting momentum, the Iran performance lost its luster and wonder in just 90 transparent minutes.

On a larger scale, Southgate’s England appears to be a team looking for its larger purpose, identity, and raison d’être. This situation appears to have lost a great deal of its vigor and intensity. How did this occur, and how can they retrieve it?

This transcends a single performance and, in many ways, transcends the performance itself. A streak of one win in eight games is not beneficial. But England is also a victim of things beyond their control: football overload, the existential tedium of the Nations League, and the insane bizarreness of this World Cup in Qatar.

Never before has the position of football in the globe and our position in football been so precarious. England could still perform exceptionally well at this World Cup, and could even win. But what does it imply? What would it feel like?

England's blandest display demonstrates they're not top dog
England's blandest display demonstrates they're not top dog

Occasionally, you can detect ambivalence in England’s football. Do you choose the daring alternative, assume the risk, initiate communication, and accept the challenge? Or do you simply return the ball to Stones to restart the cycle? Do you wear the armband regardless of the repercussions?

Or do you retreat from the precipice, take your medication, and regroup? Should you release Phil Foden or keep him on the bench? Part of the reason England has been so erratic in recent months is that they are unclear of the correct responses, or even if there is a correct response.

Perhaps the argument to be made in this instance is about conflict. The United States came for a fight. They had a distinct plan based on compact formation and swift forward movement. They intended to make the game unpleasant. England, on the other hand, played as though they desired as little friction as possible.

They were apprehensive and determined to follow the road of least resistance. The first tackle did not occur until 38 minutes had passed. The back four had 358 more touches than the remainder of the team combined. Southgate stated afterward that they were “excellent.” It has always been a game of opinions.

England has players who are eager to engage in combat. Bukayo Saka, Jude Bellingham, Jack Grealish, Trent Alexander-Arnold, and Marcus Rashford are unafraid of contact, risk-taking players with a desire to express themselves.

To win a duel, one must first be willing to fight. On and off the field, England’s World Cup strategy appears to be to avoid conflict for as long as possible. We shall see how that turns out.

They earned a point and will likely advance to the next round. However, it is difficult not to feel that something essential has been lost along the way.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Skip to content