Armchair Pundit

An English team restoring national pride?

Alex Chick

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The players, coaches, masseurs and chefs might be returning to these shores in shame, but it is nice to know England still has one team excelling themselves in South Africa.

Step forward referee Howard Webb and his assistants Darren Cann and Mike Mullarkey, who seem to have achieved national treasure just by officiating a football match competently.

If the nation's broadcasters are to be believed, Webb should be greeted on his return to his home town of Rotherham by a 20ft bronze statue of him shouting at a South American who cannot possibly understand him.

I suppose we have to cling on to small victories, but Webb, Cann and Mullarkey's performance was greeted as a masterpiece simply because they did not disallow any clear goals.

The country has been brought so low by that defeat to Germany that routine decisions are now a source of national pride.

Cann also had a night to remember, earning lavish praise for correctly spotting Luis Fabiano was onside for his goal. "What a night Darren Cann is having!"

Perhaps we should be glad our footballers were dumped out so unceremoniously, because the path is now clear for Webb to referee the final.

No such luck for England's friend Senor Larrionda, whose Uruguayan countrymen's progress to the last eight threatens his continued involvement almost as much as his inability to see which side of a line the a football is. Loser.

Now Webb is a good referee and probably a decent man, but since when did a correctly deployed advantage from the Yorkshire Collina bring squeals of ecstasy from Clive Tyldesley?

Even Five Live's Alan Green joined the chorus of praise, having spent the whole season advancing a sketchy theory that Webb had got worse.

I don't know whether this epic clutching at straws actually reflected the national mood. I didn't have time to ask everyone, although a number of mocking texts and tweets suggested not.

Let's just remember we're talking about a referee here. He might be our b******d in the black, but he's still a b******d in the black.

Refs are figures of loathing, ridicule or - an absolute best-case scenario - indifference. Week in, week out, they get abused by managers, fans and pundits. So why would we cheer our least useless official once he gets on the world stage?

It is just as silly as the argument that we ought to support English teams in Europe. No. If you hate Manchester United, Chelsea or Arsenal, you hate them. You want them to lose every game they play, even against a team of Carlos Kickaballs from Bucharest.

I have absolutely nothing against Howard Webb, but that doesn't mean I want him to succeed any more than a ref from any other country. And it definitely won't restore my national pride if he referees the World Cup final.

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Mind you, it was an odd day all round as the media struggled to find a new storyline in this World Cup.

The trials and tribulations of England provide a universal reference point to give the casual viewer interest in any game: "The winner of Paraguay-Japan could face England in the last four."

But with England out, we had to - gasp! - just enjoy some other countries playing football.

Not that we were going to let go without a fight. Alan Shearer was in a filthy mood throughout the Holland-Slovakia game, while ITV lost the plot completely and invited a live band into the studio after Brazil-Chile - it was like Adrian Chiles was presenting the One Show again.

I was just mightily pleased we were out when I watched Brazil beat Chile 3-0. The Chileans would have thrashed us, never mind Brazil.

But the Five Live team saw England parallels even in a South American derby: "Now that's how you lose by three goals!" they purred as Chile kept pouring forward late on.

The rest of the country merely chastised themselves for allowing them to get carried away in hype and inflated expectations. Then they changed the channel and watched Andy Murray take the next step on his way to a glorious Wimbledon triumph.

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There'll be more on what Glenn Hoddle would almost certainly call 'the Fabio Capello situation' in the morning blog, by which time the England squad will have been accorded a welcome of rotten fruit at Heathrow.

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