Can England handle the World Cup pressure?
There was a predictable press overreaction following England’s draw with USA last weekend, coupled with a familiar grim acceptance from beleaguered Three Lions fans.
But following the match, which saw Rob Green’s howler gift the US an equaliser just before half time and England toil after the break, there has also been the suggestion that the England players are struggling to handle the pressure of playing on the biggest stage. Anyone who has placed a World Cup bet on England should probably start to worry.
US striker Clint Dempsey claimed he sensed the England players were “edgy” during the match in Rustenberg, something a side packed full of players with Champions League experience shouldn’t be.
Nerves could also have been the cause of Rob Green’s horrendous blunder. Former England Cricket wicket-keeper Jack Russell suggested Green’s tense body probably made it harder for him to control the ball when it came towards him.
So why the nerves?
Well the weight of public expectation can’t help. They will know the hopes of an entire nation, weary after 44 years of hurt, is on their shoulders. They also know anyone who falls short of the standards expected of them is likely to face a backlash. The vilification of David Beckham in 1998 is evidence of this, while Green will struggle to shake off the memory of last Saturday.
So what can be done to counter it? Well many believe boss Fabio Capello should name his team earlier than his regulation two hours before kickoff. With so many places in the team uncertain an early naming of the line-up will allow those named in the XI time to mentally prepare.
It is also hoped that once the team has settled into the tournament their natural free flowing game will return. After all England aren’t alone in failing to fire in their opener. The majority of the matches in the 2010 Football World Cup far have been tight and turgid affairs. Plus it can’t be forgotten that England didn’t actually lose the game and still have a great chance of winning their group.
The game of football in played as much in the head as on the field and if appears England still have some mental challenges to overcome.
Only then can their World Cup challenge really begin.