Keep Politics out of Sport? Don’t Make me Laugh

Barcelona

London – Barcelona’s decision to play the October 1 match against Las Palmas in an empty stadium smacked of choosing points over principles, and overlooks the fact that sport has always found room for protest.

When it came down to it, FC Barcelona – mes que un club, remember – could not bring themselves to go all in. The threatened loss of six points – three for the defaulted match, three more as a penalty – was enough to persuade them to stage their match against Las Palmas behind locked doors in a deserted Camp Nou, while outside the streets of the city rang with the echoes of violent confrontations between police and voters in an independence referendum ruled illegal by the national government.

The club’s decision was an important one. Barça is a powerful international symbol of Catalan identity. A refusal to play Sunday’s match would have added tinder to the fire of the independence movement. But they compete in a league where their final standing against Real Madrid has been measured in the last three seasons by two points, one point and three points. So they took the safer option, leaving Gerard Piqué who has never made a secret of his Catalan pride, to join up with the Spain squad and face uncomfortable questions about divided loyalties.

Meanwhile, fans who had voted for independence pointed to the example of Welsh clubs competing in the English league as evidence that independence from Spain would not have to mean ejection from La Liga. Few would want an entirely autonomous Catalonia to incorporate a future of Barça competing in a domestic mini-league made up by FC Girona, Gimnàstic de Tarragona and Lleida Esportiu.

Keep politics out of sport? Don’t make me laugh. Politics infiltrates sport at all levels. Think about the decision to start next year’s Giro d’Italia in Israel. For one partner in the deal, that’s obviously a matter of money – €17m, apparently. For the other, it represents valuable image-polishing. This is not quite the same as launching the Tour de France in Yorkshire, which was not, the last time I looked, surrounded by walls aimed at keeping out people from Lancashire or County Durham. Or there’s Qatar, whose appalling treatment of migrant workers on the 2022 World Cup stadiums was exposed – not for the first time – by Human Rights Watch this week. Do we really think the Qataris are investing so heavily in football, at home and abroad, out of a sheer love of the game?

The coming days might tell us whether FC Barcelona has a further role to play in the dramatic reawakening of old regional tensions and whether the events of October 1 will join the line of football matches that played a part in shaping history, a phenomenon that could be said to have begun in 1969 with a conflict between El Salvador and Honduras that became known as the Football War.

Tensions between the two countries had been heightened by the migration to Honduras of hundreds of thousands of Salvadorans, leaving a country one-fifth the size of its neighbor but with a population 40 percent greater, prompting the Honduran government to enact reforms intended to keep land out of the hands of immigrant farmers while expelling Salvadoran laborers. The fuse for open conflict was lit when the two countries met in the qualifying tournament for the 1970 World Cup.

The first match was held in the Honduran capital, Tegucigalpa, where the visiting players were kept awake by crowds letting off firecrackers and breaking windows in their hotel. The home team won by a single goal, prompting an 18-year-old girl watching at home in El Salvador to take her father’s pistol from his desk and shoot herself dead. Amelia Bolianos was given a state funeral, her coffin accompanied by the president of the republic and the players of the football team.

When Honduras arrived in San Salvador for the return leg a week later, the welcome included rotten eggs and dead rats thrown through their hotel windows. They made their way to the Flor Blanca stadium in armored cars, passing through angry crowds holding portraits of the dead girl. El Salvador won this one 3-0, which meant that the tie progressed to a play-off on neutral ground in Mexico City. El Salvador won 3-2 with an extra-time goal from their right-winger, “Pipo” Rodríguez, a qualified civil engineer, a few hours after their government had dissolved diplomatic relationships with Honduras in protest against further mass expulsions.

Two weeks later the Salvadoran army and air force launched an invasion which drew a swift response. The war lasted 100 hours and killed 3,000 people, the majority of them civilians, before both sides obeyed a ceasefire call from the Organization of American States. Three months later El Salvador beat Haiti in a play-off to reach the 1970 finals in Mexico, where they lost all three of their group matches.

Twenty years later Red Star Belgrade traveled to meet Dinamo Zagreb in a Yugoslavian league fixture in the midst of rising fervor among Serb and Croat nationalists. Rioting between the home fans and 3,000 visiting supporters continued during the match itself and the game was on the verge of being abandoned, with several players having made it to the safety of the dressing rooms, when Zvonimir Boban, the Dinamo playmaker, kicked a police officer. Although criminal charges were brought and a suspension cost Boban his place in Yugoslavia’s team at the 1990 World Cup finals, his gesture made him a folk hero to his fellow Croats during the bloody war that raged from 1991 to 1995, by which time he was starring for Milan and sending part of his salary back home to help the fight against Serbia.

Back in Mexico City, the black-gloved fists of Tommie Smith and John Carlos in 1968 and the raised hand of Diego Maradona in 1986 were political statements, the first an explicit protest against racial injustice in the United States and the second an implicit response to England’s victory in the Falklands War. Two years ago the flag of a notional “Greater Albania” was flown from a drone into the Belgrade stadium where Serbia and Albania were playing in a Euro 2016 qualifying match, provoking fights among players and fans that led to the match being abandoned.

Like those examples, last weekend’s Barcelona affair and Donald Trump’s continuing assault on the take-a-knee movement in the NFL show that sport cannot seal itself off from the stresses and strains of the real world. From the anti-apartheid boycotts of the 1960s to the demonstrations against holding a grand prix in Bahrain, it offers a useful theater for protest. And those who complain about the temporary inconvenience are seldom on the side of the angels.

The Guardian Sport

Abu Dhabi to Participate in Frankfurt International Book Fair

Frankfurt

Abu Dhabi, London – Dar Al Kutub at the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi will travel to Frankfurt, Germany to showcase Abu Dhabi’s dynamic and diverse publishing industry at the world’s largest publishing trade fair.

Celebrating 10 years of the Kalima Project, Dar Al Kutub’s (The National Library) presence at the fair will highlight a selection of more than 100 titles that have been translated from German to Arabic since the project began.

It highlights the translation of works by renowned German writers and literary scholars, including Herta Muller, Michael Marr, Peter Stamm, Ralph Rotman, Daniela Dantes, Daniel Kehlmann, Christa Wolf and Otfried Preussler.

The seminar will be presented by the German Writer and Journalist Stephan Feidner, and will feature Saeed Hamdan, director of Program Management at the National Library Department, Klaus Reichert, president of the German Academy of Language and Literature, and Jordanian poet and interpreter, Mustafa Al-Slaiman.

The fair will be held between October 11 and 15.

Kalima is also organizing a session to highlight the problem of book piracy and intellectual property rights. It will discuss measures to protect authors’ rights, raise awareness on intellectual property protection and promote relevant laws and regulations in response to the global developments in this field.

Aiming to motivate and support creativity in several fields, the symposium will be run by the German Critic Hans Obrist, and will feature Petra Hard from the SuperCamp Publishing house, and Dr. Mathiew Eliot, publishing rights’ official at Kalima.

As part of the discussions focusing on the development of the publishing industry, the library management in Dar Al Kutub will organize a dialogue session on the reality and future of the publishing industry in the Arab world. It will highlight state efforts to promote and empower the industry through the application of international standards and qualifications.

The session will host speakers Abdullah Majid Al Ali, executive director of the Acting Library Sector, and Sheikha Al-Muhairi, acting director of Libraries Department.

Shadow of Pep Guardiola Made Carlo Ancelotti a Man out of Time at Bayern

Ancelotti

Munich – When Bayern Munich came to London in March to face Arsenal, following one 5-1 victory and just about to register another, everything seemed rosy in the kingdom of FC Hollywood. Sure, their football in the Bundesliga had hardly been edge-of-the-seat stuff, but Carlo Ancelotti spoke confidently, almost bullishly, of his team before the game in the press room at the Emirates Stadium.

He talked of his side approaching their physical best and of their “real energy”. It felt like his plan to take them back to Champions League glory – the reason that he was appointed to replace Pep Guardiola in the first place – was coming together at the right time. It felt like Bayern could be becoming Ancelotti’s team at last.

Once we walked up into the stands to see Bayern go through an innocuous 15-minute warm-up in the chill of a north London evening, it became clear that was perhaps less the case than the Italian would like to believe. The players immediately organized themselves into a high-tempo rondo – the piggy-in-the-middle one-touch game so beloved of Guardiola that set the tone in his reign from the very beginning. For all the world’s media, the indelible mark left on the squad by the Catalan tactician was plain to see.

It is living in the shadow of Guardiola that has ultimately cost Ancelotti his post at Bayern. The club’s management always knew there would be a drop-off in intensity when Guardiola – to their disappointment – left, and there was even the suggestion in some quarters that might not be a bad thing. Working under Guardiola is demanding and some of the squad, notably Franck Ribéry, had become tired of his micro-management.

Yet those players who breathed a sigh of relief at seeing the back of his three-line whip perhaps came to crave its return. They went from being kept on a short leash to being allowed to run around the park for hours. Still, as Bayern have underachieved this season, there has been a lot of dishonest revision of Ancelotti’s attributes, or apparent lack thereof.

Some have even gone as far as to suggest he does not do anything. This is plainly nonsense – ask Paris Saint-Germain, who mourned his loss for a prolonged period after his 2013 departure. Ancelotti showed PSG what being an elite club was all about, getting the players into the habit of recuperating and spending time with each other at Camp des Loges – just as the great Milan teams did at Milanello – and persuading the likes of Thiago Silva and Zlatan Ibrahimovic that the club were for real. “Paris lui doit tellement” – Paris owe him so much – said the headline in Wednesday’s L’Equipe, on the eve of that ultimately ruinous defeat at Parc des Princes. For those who thought Ancelotti has no eye for detail, there was even the anecdote that he ordered ball-boys for training in his time at PSG to minimize the dead time between exercises.

Tactical nuance, however, clearly is not his thing, and this began to frustrate the German champions’ squad – and those upstairs, who had seen Guardiola create a discernible Bayern brand of football. International observers may keep coming back to Guardiola’s failure to take Bayern back to the Champions League final in his three-year spell, but locals will remind you the football that the team produced in that time was out of this world.

Such peaks were the product of no let-up. That is not Ancelotti’s style, and Karl-Heinz Rummenigge knew that when he appointed him. The lack of dazzle in Bundesliga action did not cause any initial alarm – if underwhelming domestically meant having plenty left in the tank for the final stages of the Champions League, then that was a price that Bayern were prepared to pay to allow Ancelotti to work his magic.

The majesty with which they overwhelmed Arsenal was all too brief, though, and the awful second half performance in the quarter-final, first leg against Real Madrid was the beginning of the end for the coach. Rummenigge may have spent a long time bemoaning the officiating in the second leg at the Bernabéu but deep down, he knew what he saw at the Allianz Arena the week before – his team, faced with a setback against a high-quality opponent for one of the first times that season, and with absolutely no answer to it.

Accordingly, Bayern went into this season with what amounted to a lame duck head coach, with the hope that he would keep everything shipshape until Julian Nagelsmann could arrive with a new energy next summer. A series of disjointed performances, a pertinent loss to Nagelsmann’s Hoffenheim and scarcely-concealed rebellion in public comments by Thomas Müller, Robert Lewandowski and, after the humbling in Paris, Arjen Robben has brought things to a head sooner than Rummenigge or Uli Hoeness would like.

Whether right now is the right moment for Nagelsmann is questionable – he is a prodigious talent but still only 30. In the meantime, Bayern have turned once again to Jupp Heynckes, appointing him manager for the fourth time since 1987. During his last stint, he led Bayern to win the treble in 2013. In his fourth stint, Heynckes will not only be required to bring in new ideas to the club, but he will have to quickly put a lid on any dressing-room unrest.

Ancelotti will walk away with his reputation largely undamaged, and that is fair. He was maybe the right type of coach for Bayern at completely the wrong moment.

The Guardian Sport

Gareth Southgate Must Give Freedom a Chance after Numbing England Spectacle

England

London – Put out more flags. Dust down the red and white jester’s hat. Root out the gumshield, the crumpled Yekaterinburg metro map. And prepare to head once more into that strangely grueling territory between bruised and fearful cynicism and the eternal quiver of tournament hope.

England have booked their place at the World Cup in Russia after surely the most meandering, flaccid qualification victory yet devised by any England team. Slovenia were beaten by Harry Kane’s goal but make no mistake – this was both a dreadful game of football and a numbing spectacle for those loyal supporters still willing to drag themselves out on a Thursday night to enter the vast money-rinsing concrete cauldron of the Wembley entertainment complex.

Victory may have sealed qualification, but it also deflated further any realistic expectations of what might happen when England get there. This should be of great concern to the Football Association. There are only so many times even England fans will be prepared to pay £40 for the pleasure of throwing paper airplanes at the pitch, which brought the loudest cheers of the night right up until Kane’s finish in stoppage time.

At the end England’s players gathered in the center circle and wandered around applauding the empty red plastic seats and the backs of people queuing to leave while the PA burbled gamely about the prestige friendlies to come. As an image of England football 2017, and the slow, gilded death for what was once football’s most compelling theater, it is probably quite hard to beat.

England were at least terrible in a grimly fascinating way. Gone are the days when a poor England team sent it long, seeking out the head of some game forward battering ram. Here they were terrible in the new style, passing to each other but setting out with two lumbering central midfield wardrobes shielding a defense threatened only by its own misplaced passes. In the opening hour they produced a performance so lacking in purpose and precision it was like watching a piece of performance art, a 45-minute Warhol-style short film called Wembley Angst No94.

England did improve after the hour mark but by then they had a lot of ground to make up from a standing start as the game congealed early on into another game just like the other games. Jordan Henderson had the ball quite a lot, worrying about from side to side, always looking back into the yonic safety of his defense. Midway through the half England produced a stunningly terrible free-kick routine, working the ball very slowly backwards and finally teeing it up for Henderson to perform a spectacular falling-over air-kick on the edge of the area. Grimly, Slovenia cleared.

Only Marcus Rashford seemed really interested in trying to run forward quickly. Raheem Sterling ran quite a lot. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain played like Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. And that was pretty much that for the most soft-pedaled minor chord moment of qualification imaginable, given a spark of life at the death by Kane’s opportunism.

What now then? One thing is clear. England does not expect. It has been more than a decade since the national team had the luxury of traveling in a state of doomed optimism, the mood ever more stricken since that golden, foolish summer of 2006 when the world was still young, when Crouchie did the robot with Prince William, and when the idea of some grand Premier League talent-legacy waiting to be spent died for good on the fields of Stuttgart, Cologne and Gelsenkirchen.

The challenge now for Gareth Southgate is not to try to reach the World Cup final. It is to produce a team that people actually want to watch. This has been a deathly qualification, with only 16 goals scored and a feeling of having spent endless hours watching England’s furrowed and fearful back five play a variety of keep-ball.

From here it seems absolutely clear Southgate needs to take a chance, to chuck out the Dan Ashworth handbook of mind-bogglingly dull and outmoded possession football, to accept that playing with adventure, life, pace, and risky attacking vim might revive not just the dwindling England brand but his own managerial career.

In their current guise, watching England is like watching a 12-round under-card split decision wrestle-off between a pair of ponderous 15st taxi drivers, the craft-free double defensive midfield bolt the managerial equivalent of tucking both your shirt and your vest into your underpants.

What is the point of playing this way? From here to next summer every moment of Southgate’s time should be devoted to trying to wring the most out of what he does have, a spritz of genuine forward talent in Kane, Dele Alli and Rashford. He needs a midfielder who can pass. And he needs to trust his defense to carry the ball forward.

Success for this team would involve simply playing with a little freedom, exploring their own limits and refusing to leave the competition until they have at least been beaten by a demonstrably superior team. Score some goals. Produce at least one performance that lets everyone feel giddy and stupid and deluded for four days in June.

There is a wider issue here about international football itself. When the away fans in Malta last month sang against their team, they weren’t angry or incensed or spoiling for a fight. They were taking the mickey out of the whole thing: England, us, them, the enduring disjunct between a domestic league of such screeching urgency and a national team who have withered in its shadow. Take note, Gareth. It is when they stop booing you really want to start worrying. For now England will travel with hope, as ever. But not much of it.

The Guardian Sport

Egypt Qualifies for FIFA World Cup for First Time in 28 Years

Salah

London – Egypt qualified for the 2018 FIFA World Cup for the third time in its history on Sunday after defeating Congo 2-1 in Alexandria.

Liverpool striker Mohammed Salah scored his country’s two goals, giving Egypt the victory that allows it to play in the World Cup for the first time in 28 years.

Egypt becomes the second Arab country after Saudi Arabia and the second African country after Nigeria to qualify to next year’s tournament that is hosted by Russia.

Egypt had previously played in the 1934 and 1990 World Cups, both of which were hosted by Italy.

With Sunday’s victory, Egypt managed to avoid the play-off round. They ended the group stage of the qualifications with 12 points from four victories. They only lost once. They ended their campaign four points ahead of the nearest competitor in group E that included Ghana, Uganda and Congo.

Egypt had taken the lead against Congo with a Salah goal in the 63rd minute. The crowd of some 75,000 fans then had to endure some tense moments after Congo equalized in the 87th minute, but a Salah penalty in the fourth minute of added time sealed Egypt’s qualification to euphoric celebrations across the country.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defense, telephoned later on Sunday Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi to congratulate him on his country’s achievement.

More Arab countries could join Egypt and Saudi Arabia in Russia next year if Tunisia and Morocco earn draws against Libya and the Ivory Coast respectively in next month’s African play-offs.

Syria will meanwhile face Australia on October 10 to determine whether it will reserve a place for itself in the Asian play-offs.

The draw for the group stages of the 2018 World Cup will take place in Moscow on December 1.

World Hungers for Sand while Germany has much of it

sand

Berlin – As incredible as it sounds, the world is running out of sand. Or at least the kind of sand that industries need.

According to the UN Environment Program (UNEP), sand and gravel, known as aggregates, are used in volumes greater than any other raw material on earth except water. And their use greatly exceeds natural renewal rates, the program says.

Kay-Christian Emeis, director of the Institute of Coastal Research at the Helmholtz Center for Materials and Coastal Research (HZG) near Hamburg, Germany, says that worldwide demand for sand is enormous, an estimated 14 billion tons annually, more than half of which is used in Asia.

UNEP explained that sand is indispensable in the industry of many things, such as glass, paper, toothpaste, detergents, cosmetics, electronics and aeronautics, and it is used predominantly in construction and land restorations. Concrete is made with cement, water, sand and gravel.

Even desert countries, like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, import sand (marine sand) from Australia, for example to build their skyscrapers.

Harald Elsner, a geologist at Germany’s Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources (BGR) notes that the mineral composition and grain-size distribution of desert sand are not suited to construction.

Most desert sand cannot be used for concrete or land reclamation, as wind erosion shapes round grains that do not blend well, UNEP added.

When Dubai created a group of 300 artificial islands representing a map of the world, it used 450 million tons of Australian sand. As the HZG explains, desert sand would be blown away much too quickly.

The worldwide construction boom, particularly in China, has not left Germany a bystander. According to government statistics, more than 270,000 dwellings in Germany were either newly built or reconstructed in 2016, which is a high record.

This year, the German Construction Industry Federation expects the number to top 300,000.

Berlin Opera House Thanks Taxpayers with Free Concert

Berlin

Berlin – Berlin’s Opera House thanked German taxpayers with a free concert on Saturday. It was attended by hundreds of citizens, whose money contributed to the reopening of the historic building.

About 300 people attended the “Concert for Berlin,” which was also broadcast live.

The Opera House’s director Daniel Barenboim thanked taxpayers for the renovation of the 250-year-old building.

The Berlin Opera Hall was reopened on Tuesday after a seven-year renovation.

The renovation process cost a total of 400 million euros. They were equally funded by the federal budget and the local budget of the Berlin Municipality.

Some free seats remained vacant at the concert, which featured performances of the works of Italy’s Giuseppe Verdi and England’s Edward Elgar.

Celebration of the opera house’s reopening began on Tuesday and ended over the weekend.

The opera is scheduled to close for two months to allow musicians, exhibitors and employees to adapt to the new technology installed at the building.

Kuwait’s Ice Ladies to Mark Presence on Hockey Rinks

Kuwait- In their red, white and blue uniforms, Kuwait’s first female ice hockey team is training hard in the desert ahead of their debut world tournament later this month.

Athletes in hijab or with their hair hastily tied in topknots pull on their helmets before taking to the rink in the Kuwaiti capital, where temperatures top 40 degrees Celsius.

Team player Bahar Al-Harban told AFP: “It’s totally new, girls playing this sort of demanding sport here in Kuwait and in the Gulf, but it goes to show that in sports there is truly no difference between men and women.”

According to the Kuwaiti News Agency (KUNA), Kuwait’s women’s ice hockey team first emerged in 2007, as part of an initiative launched by the Kuwait Winter Sports Federation.

However, the team was suspended due to the lack of financial capacities, before being re-launched recently by the federation.

Although winter sports are not familiar in the Arab World, sports on ice have made headlines recently. Along with women hockey practiced in many countries, UAE national Zahra Lari has gained popularity as the Emirates’ first female figure skater and the first international figure skater to compete in hijab.

According to KUNA, Kuwait’s women’s ice hockey team will play their first international game on October 30 at the Ice Hockey World Championship in Bangkok.

Kuwait’s women’s ice hockey team is composed of 56 players between the ages of 15 and 30, some of them mothers who frequently bring their children to training.

Shile the athletes have the support of their teammates and, increasingly, of their communities, what they lack is their own training facility. For now, they still rent the ice rink in a state-run ski lounge.

Sheikha Naima Al-Sabah, president of the Kuwaiti Women’s Sports Authority said: “We need facilities dedicated to training women to convince families that that their daughters need to be involved in sports.”

“We initially faced some resistance due to social traditions, but the culture of women in sports is spreading and we’re not regular faces at Asian tournaments,” she told AFP, adding “So we are progressing, but slowly, because some of our girls immediately marry at a certain age, or because they choose to wear hijab in a world where you’re not allowed into certain sports like basketball if you choose to wear hijab.”

International basketball governing body FIBA in May rescinded a ban on hijab and other forms of religious head covers, which on the grounds that they could potentially fall off and pose a risk to players.

But with its oversized jerseys, shin guards and helmets, hockey is a good fit for many of players.

Team player Khaleda Abdel Karim said her family didn’t oppose her participation in the hockey team, noting that the uniform totally covers everything, so she finds no difficulties at all in that sense.

Despite the warm welcome the team has received, the women are still fighting to both secure the best for their athletes — and to overcome culture challenges both at home and abroad.

Sabah said in order to get the best results, players need to be given the best training. “What we need are good coaches, professional trainers,” she added.

England Reach the World Cup again – Can they do Better this Time?

England

London – England have qualified for the tournament in Russia and are so far unbeaten in their group but that does not guarantee they will have a successful tournament. Here we chart how they have got on after winning in 1966

Mexico 1970
England qualified as holders and finished second in their group, behind Brazil, the eventual winners. That meant a quarter‑final against West Germany. Sir Alf Ramsey’s side led 2-0 before losing 3-2, with Gerd Müller’s goal ending England’s hopes of retaining the Jules Rimet trophy.

West Germany 1974
For the first time since England entered the qualification process, in 1950, they failed to reach the finals. They had to beat Poland in a Wembley qualifier in October 1973 but despite taking 36 shots, forcing 26 corners, hitting the woodwork twice and having four efforts cleared off the line, they simply could not find a way past the Poland goalkeeper Jan Tomaszewski, who was infamously dubbed a “clown” by Brian Clough at half-time.

Argentina 1978
England may have had a different manager in Ron Greenwood but for the second time in succession they failed to reach the finals. It came down to goal difference, with the Italians booking their ticket thanks to their 6-1 defeat of Finland.

Spain 1982
England required victory against Hungary at Wembley in November 1981 to reach their first World Cup in 12 years and managed it thanks to a slightly clumsy Paul Mariner goal. At the tournament they started well with a 3-1 victory against France. A goalless draw with West Germany meant Greenwood’s men had to beat the hosts to advance to the semi-finals. They drew 0-0.

Mexico 1986
Bobby Robson’s side qualified with relative ease, topping their group thanks to an undefeated record of four wins and four draws. In Mexico, Gary Lineker’s six goals guided England to the quarter‑finals, where they were undone by Diego Maradona through fair means and foul.

Italy 1990
Robson led England to a second successive World Cup finals after they finished second in their qualifying group. At the tournament, a Paul Gascoigne-inspired side reached the semi-finals and came home as heroes.

USA 1994
Graham Taylor’s one and only qualifying campaign as manager was a disaster. They were pipped to the two qualifying places by Norway and Holland and Taylor, who died earlier this year, became a figure of ridicule and humiliation.

France 1998
A defeat against Italy at Wembley was the only stain on a near‑perfect run in the qualifiers for Glenn Hoddle’s side, with a goalless draw against the same opponents in Rome sealing England’s place at the finals. There they faced Argentina in the last 16 and lost on penalties following a match including Michael Owen’s stunning goal and David Beckham’s needless sending off.

South Korea and Japan, 2002
David Beckham’s dramatic free-kick against Greece at Old Trafford sent Sven Goran-Eriksson’s side to a tournament where they got revenge over Argentina before eventually being knocked out by Brazil, via Ronaldinho’s free‑kick, in the quarter-finals.

Germany 2006
The “Golden Generation” secured their place by finishing top of their qualifying group. At the tournament, they flattered to deceive, eventually exiting via a quarter-final defeat, on penalties, to Portugal.

South Africa 2010
Fabio Capello side qualified with ease, winning nine and losing one of their group games. If only their performances in South Africa were as convincing – England stumbled into the knockout stages where they were thumped 4-1 by Germany.

Brazil 2014
Yet again England impressed in qualifying, going through their group undefeated. But, again, they were terrible at the tournament, failing to progress to the knockout stages after losing against Italy and Uruguay and drawing with Costa Rica.

The Guardian Sport

How England Can Find World Cup Spark and Repair Disconnect with Fans

Southgate

London – The sense of anticlimax was inescapable. Gareth Southgate had spent his evening on the touchline dodging paper airplanes, tedium-induced origami, and blocking out occasional spasms of booing from the home support, and was left to plead for patience after the match. It matters not that plenty of nations would love to be in England’s position. Argentina are in real danger of missing out on a World Cup for the first time since 1970 after drawing with Peru in Buenos Aires. Holland are third in their group and in peril, while even the European champions, Portugal, are facing up to the likelihood of a play-off. The same fate almost certainly awaits Italy. England, in contrast, have emerged unbeaten through another qualification campaign and yet the mood was almost apologetic.

Southgate, asked if he was enjoying himself a year into his tenure, mustered a rueful smile. “Well, weirdly, I am,” he said. “Although I’m not certain I’m standing here thinking: ‘Wow, isn’t it brilliant to have qualified for a World Cup,’ feeling all the love. But I get it, I get it. I go back to the first objective being to qualify, and we have done that. Now we look at how we build, evolve and improve. In international football you don’t have a chequebook of hundreds of millions of pounds to spend. So we have to coach and work to improve people and the team, and that is the great challenge. I get how people are feeling about us at the moment but I also believe in the potential of these players. I want to build a team that the country are proud of.” Now Southgate has Sunday’s qualifier in Lithuania and, at best, four friendly fixtures before he must select a squad for the tournament in Russia. So what areas must England address most urgently if they are to repair the disconnect between team and support?

Conjure some kind of creativity in central midfield

Adam Lallana should have played again for Liverpool by the time England confront Brazil and Germany, Fifa’s top-ranked sides, in friendlies next month and will be reintegrated immediately at international level, but he will find his reputation has soared in absentia. England’s shortcomings are felt most keenly in a lack of creation. Everything was a plod on Thursday, as it has been so often in a qualification campaign littered with slow starts, with the shepherding of the ball as labored as the movement of the players when confronted by massed defense. Oh for a bit of zest, some incision, a burst of quality in the pass. Lallana’s forte is his movement, and his front-foot urgency and aggression in the pass will make a difference. Southgate must wish Jack Wilshere had not slipped so far down the pecking order at Arsenal, for all that he cannot rule out the 25-year-old still making a late case for involvement. “We’re in a position where there’s no way we would dismiss any creative player,” he said. “But, of course, people have to be playing at a good level.”But where are the other options? Has, say, Harry Winks done enough to suggest he can be the answer? Is there anyone else out there? Southgate believes there are players in the system who will go on to impress at the highest level, but they are 18 months to two years away from being ready. So, if the personnel are out of reach, a system of play must be employed that taps better into what qualities the current collective do possess.

Is there scope to explore a back three again?

Arguably England’s most persuasive performance under Southgate’s stewardship was the narrow, and unfortunate, defeat by Germany in March when the manager experimented with a back three with some success. Gary Cahill, Chris Smalling and Michael Keane started in Dortmund behind a pair of midfield anchors, and with the energetic Dele Alli and Lallana supporting Jamie Vardy. There was width and pace from full-back and proper bite on the counterattack. It was a tactic to which the team resorted in the latter stages against Slovenia on Thursday when the visitors went for broke, and it may be an approach that ekes the best from this group against more fancied, enterprising opponents at the finals. England will surely be more of a threat on the break against better teams than they are when asked to break down opponents. Germany and Brazil will test that theory.

Pray English players benefit from involvement in the Champions League latter stages

Southgate was at pains to point to this group’s lack of experience – “they’re young players and most of them have never been to a World Cup so this is a big moment in their careers”– and acknowledged they will find themselves in the company of sides laced with Champions League and league championship winners. That rather overlooked the reality that, in Cahill and Ryan Bertrand, he has two European Cup winners, not to mention players who have claimed the Premier League with Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea. But he was right in hoping the likes of Marcus Rashford and Alli, Kyle Walker and John Stones, sharpen their skills in the Champions League this season and thrive at that level. “The younger lads are playing more big games in the Champions League and, if they get to the latter stages and maybe the finals, all these big-pressure games will help this squad,” said Cahill. “We’ve held our own against the likes of Spain and Germany but to have the knack to go on and win those games … that’s something we can learn. To kill teams off when we’re playing well. That’s the gap.” Game management in highly pressurized occasions is something that has to be learned. The more familiar this group’s key players become with tense elite contests, the more likely England are to make an impact in Russia.

So, if we acknowledge we cannot be like Spain, can we be like Iceland?

“Are we going to become Spain in the next eight months?” asked Southgate on Thursday night. “No, we’re not.” But, if we can accept England’s options are not going to blossom unexpectedly, can we not at least aspire to be like Iceland at the World Cup? Not necessarily in style, but in structure, playing to a distinct and clear plan that brings the best out of those available? Iceland’s strength at Euro 2016 was an unswerving belief in their approach and an ability to implement a relatively simple gameplan. The approach only took them so far, of course, and they were found out by France. But, by then, they had seen off England and reached a quarter-final. Southgate would thrill at the prospect of doing likewise in the context of recent tournament traumas. Yet another troubling aspect of England’s qualification is that, for all the talk of progress, on the pitch a clear plan and thought process have not always been evident. The management team feel a plan is being implemented. They believe they are drumming it into the players at every get-together. Yet it is not always easy to notice from the outside looking in. If the supporters can identify what the team are trying to achieve, maybe the skepticism will recede.

The Guardian Sport