England aim to end 52 years of World Cup pain

Road to Moscow: This assumes England wins its group, and all the favourites win their matches.

How excited should England fans be? The Three Lions kick off their World Cup campaign today. The familiar tournament hype is engulfing the country. Does pressure help players or hinder them?

England will begin its World Cup campaign with a match against Tunisia in Volgograd, a city still known to many by its Soviet era name — Stalingrad. It is the heavy favourite for this match.

The Three Lions have been trapped in a familiar cycle for decades.

It starts with a disastrous exit at a tournament. The team comes home in disgrace.

Next comes qualifying, where England are effective but uninspiring. “Don’t get your hopes up, England will let you down again”, fans tell each other.

Then, in the months before the tournament begins, everything changes. The motherland of football, starved of success for 52 years, starts to believe again.

And so pressure, inevitably, starts to weigh on players.

After dumping England out of Euro 2016, Iceland’s Aron Gunnarsson said he “almost felt sorry” for England for the pressure it was under. “They knew the trouble they would be in if they lost to Iceland.”

All the big sides are under huge pressure, but England seem to buckle the most. The best example is its record in penalty shootouts. For the last World Cup, the team turned to a psychologist to help it cope with the pressure of a shootout.

How excited should England fans be?

Fever pitch

Dare to dream, say some. England have improved in recent months, and in the World Cup anything can happen. At the best of times, pressure galvanises a team as it rides a wave of excitement. The best players thrive under it — and those who cannot cope will never be successful anyway.

Do not hope for too much, reply others. Fans should learn from the past and become more humble about their team’s chances. England have no right to have similar expectations to Germany or Spain. And without that crushing pressure, there is a good chance the players will loosen up and play better football.

You Decide

  1. Can England win the World Cup?

Activities

  1. Split into groups. Think of three ways to cope with pressure. Share them with the rest of the class.

Some People Say...

“Everything negative — pressure, challenges — is all an opportunity for me to rise.”

Kobe Bryant

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
England will play Tunisia in Volgograd in its first match in Group G of the World Cup. The team will then face Panama and Belgium before a Round of 16 match against (most likely) Poland or Colombia.
What do we not know?
Why England seem to underachieve at the international level. It has a similar population to Italy, Germany, Spain and France, but has won only a fraction of the trophies they have won.

Word Watch

Stalingrad
Lasting for nearly six months, the Battle of Stalingrad was the Second World War’s longest, and claimed the lives of around two million people.
Heavy favourite
England are priced at 4/9 to win the match (bet £9 and you get £13 back).
Effective
England won eight and drew two of its qualifying games.
Record in penalty shootouts
England was knocked out of the World Cup in 1990, 1998 and 2006 on penalties, and the European Championship in 1996, 2004 and 2012. The team’s only win was against Spain in the quarter-finals of Euro 96.

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