It looks like the sun has finally set on Britain's soccer empire: England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland and Northern Ireland all failed to qualify for this summer's European Championships in Austria and Switzerland. And with their collective failure, "British influence within soccer has dwindled to the point where it has become a national embarrassment," says soccer columnist Paul Gardner.
At least, in England it is. Last week, the national team's "futility hit a new low" as the Lions were roundly beaten, 3-2, at home to a far superior Croatia in a game that meant everything to the hosts -- alas a tie would have done the trick—and practically nothing to the visitors. "Actually," says Gardner, "this was a total British calamity."
The worrying part is that England seems to be getting worse as the years go by. The English game simply hasn't evolved. Coaches and players still champion that ugly brand of soccer known as the long-ball approach, in which players bypass the midfield completely, opting to launch the ball at tall forwards like Peter Crouch (6-foot-7) hoping they can either manage a shot on goal or a "knockdown" to an onrushing teammate. The other strategy is to get the ball on the wing and pelt the penalty box with cross after cross—a strategy that works reasonably well when you have a quality crosser like David Beckham in your team. But it's a rather one-dimensional approach, one that England paid dearly for against Croatia, a team whose "players were technically superior, more comfortable, and confident in their ball control," says Gardner.