Storm Out of the Soccer Cup

eng.jpgI watched the News flash again and again: England’s national soccer team fail to qualify for the Euro Cup 2008. For me the second most important tournament after the World Cup has now lost its relevance, at least partially. British media has called the event a national tragedy. To quote The Daily Telegraph “Outclassed, outfought and outthought, England are out of Euro 2008…. Forget the 25 million people losing their identities in the post; a whole nation lost its identity at a drenched Wembley”.

Since 1994, it is the first time that the team has missed a significant tournament. England is crashed out of next summer’s Euro Cup tournament, which is to be held in Austria and Switzerland, when it conceded a dismal 3-2 defeat to Croatia at Wembley Stadium in London on November 21,2007. British tabloids are disappointed with England’s coach Steve McClaren who was sacked on the following day, for his detrimental decision to entrust the goal post in Scott Carson’s inexperienced hands. Not only that, his changes in team formation too proved fatal. Many feel that Scott, a junior goalkeeper could not have been as efficient as the experienced Paul Robinson. The Daily Mirror called McClaren, “The Man With No Shame” and said that this performance was the darkest in the history of English football. For McClaren, the day was “one of the saddest” of his life. English were visibly frustrated and they termed the game atrocious, rubbish, disastrous and devastating. English Football Association will have to pay 2.5 million pounds as to settle the remaining 2 1/2 years of McClaren’s contract.

England was trailing 2-0 into the second half as Nico Kranjcar and Ivica Olic had scored for Croatia. A Frank Lampard penalty and a perfect Peter Crouch finish of Beckham’s cross were like sweet showers for the goal thirsty English football lovers. But Mladen Petric fired from 25 yards just 13 minutes from the end came as a thunderbolt leaving the English fans in utter bewilderment. Croatian players were creative in their approach. It was their seemingly patient and brilliant performance that knocked England out of the Euro Cup 2008. English team had to pay a heavier price for their terrible performance against Croatia as the team falls to 12th position in the FIFA world ranking, posing a serious threat to the team’s hope of reaching 2010 World Cup. When one loses, another gains. The celebrations are in full swing in Russia as their team qualified for the Euro Cup 2008 post Croatia’s victory over England. Russian coach Guus Hiddink is exhilarated when the team’s narrow hope came true despite their loss to Israel. In fact, it was the victory of Israel against Russia that was comforting to English team, as they were just required to draw the match against Croatia to put them through Euro Cup 2008.

There is more to the story. It is not just about a nation’s aspirations and pride. The very economy is disturbed after England’s sensational loss. Had it not been for this match, I would not have known that something called “sport business strategy and marketing” ever existed. To quote The Independent, “Sports Direct, which owns the Sports World chain and Lillywhites, and the replica football kit maker Umbro issued profits warnings after the national football team’s failure to qualify triggered fears that sales of replica kits would be severely hit”. According to Simon Chadwick, professor of sport business strategy and marketing at Coventry Business School, “A successful run to the 2008 final would have led to a £2 billion bonanza for the economy”. It may sound funny to notice that a single qualifying match could make such a huge impact to the whole economy. It is not just the pubs and manufacturers of stickers who are affected but the entire retail sector who sell flat screen televisions, tourist industry and even market stall traders selling flags are under attack.

This loss has brought the country to an absolute standstill, at least for the time being. Even British Prime Minster Mr. Gordon Brown was quoted saying after Croatia beat England in the qualifying round, “It is desperately disappointing that there will be no British teams at the European Championship”. There won’t be any celebrations, half-day football holidays, screaming pubs, painted faces, flag draping, penalty shoot-out histrionics that are heard from every nook and corner of the land. For me in India, I would miss watching my favourite stars on the television. At the same time, it is relieving to believe that next June would not fill my mail inbox with messages from my English friends detailing on their plans for “football vacation”. Ironically, in Euro Cup 2008, the worldwide soccer fans would miss their favourite stars from England, some of them, who are undoubtedly world’s best.

Annapoorna Karthika