Balls to all that

Forget this World Cup nightmare - there's always Euro 2008

So who was to blame? First, Sven. No question. He had five and a half years, a very good squad, wasn't messed around, yet he was a lousy, indecisive, feckless, weak manager.

Yet, how we marvelled in September 2001 at the amazing 5-1 win over Germany. We could not believe our eyes as our lads played like angels and goal after goal went in. Now, I think it must have been luck. I can't remember one other game that made my heart soar.

There were moments during this World Cup: Joe Cole's goal-scoring volley from miles out against Sweden. What else? Becks's free kick? Jammy and long overdue. Those 60 minutes against Portugal when, down to ten men, they fought valiantly, but that's a negative image.

On paper, Sven could boast the best record of any England manager. Until Portugal, his success rate in matches played was 61.2 per cent compared with Alf Ramsey's 61.1 per cent. Now they are about equal - but, of course, they are not. Stats, as usual, lie through their teeth. Sven won lots of rubbish games - and not one when it mattered. Good riddance.

Second, the players. I blame them more than Sven. They couldn't help being badly directed. I'm sure in their own minds they tried hard enough. But they didn't play as well as they should have done. Their monster salaries don't get paid for fun. These are players at the top of their profession. OK, so none might be the current World or European Player of the Year, though Steven Gerrard made the shortlist, but at least five are rated world-class.

They also had great experience, were hardened by European and world tournaments, contained excellent captain figures such as Terry, Gerrard, Neville and Becks himself. Why didn't they lead and motivate? Why couldn't they pass straight or kick straight?

Maniche couldn't even make the Chelsea team, a pale figure compared with Lampard, yet there he was, a Portuguese star. Trinidad and Tobago, full of lower-division players, performed miles above themselves. France were supposed to be deadbeats, past it. Why couldn't the England squad raise or even play their ordinary game? It's a mystery.

Worst of all, they were nervous, tentative, lumpen, showing no swagger or pride. The lack of inner belief can be blamed on Sven but in the end, it was up to them. They bottled it.

I think next time we should ban them from press conferences. They all tried to spin it like politicians, telling us how the best was to come, rather than admitting any mistakes. Deep down, they must have known they were conning us.

Third, the one most of all to blame was me. Me, you, the fans. We conned ourselves. How could we keep believing things would get better when the evidence was before our eyes? How could we have the best squad for 40 years when patently they had done bugger all to prove it?

We were amused by the behaviour of the Wags, by the glitter and display of Becks's pre-World Cup Beckingham Palace swanky party, when we should have said how tawdry, such displays should be kept for when there is something to celebrate.

So, if we are disappointed and deflated, as I certainly am, we have only ourselves to blame. We led ourselves astray.

But we'll do exactly the same again, in Euro 2008. Oh, come on. Wayne will be two years older, and wiser. Lampard and Gerrard will have learned to play together. Theo Walcott will be out of nappies.

Inger-land . . .

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