Who to support in the World Cup final?

If you’re a pope and you’re reading this, why not find another pope and watch tonight’s match together? There has never been a better time to do this, and there probably never will be. It should be obvious who to support. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI is German and Pope Francis is Argentine, though only the latter is understood to care much about the beautiful game.

But most of us are not popes.

What if you’re English? Who then will you support?

After England were ejected from the last World Cup (2010), I blogged on how match stats suggested Fabio Capello was the most successful England manager of all time. The problem then, as I noted, was that England were knocked out by Germany, one of their two footballing nemeses (the other being Argentina).

Tonight, for the third time, Argentina and Germany (or West Germany) face each other in a World Cup final.

  • 1986 – Argentina 3-2 West Germany
  • 1990 – West Germany 1-0 Argentina

If you’re an England fan, it may not be easy to decide who to support, or who you want to lose. Perhaps it’s jingoistic – British forces have shed blood fighting both nations; Argentina’s president remains antagonistic over the Falkland Islands and Germany is the clear hegemonic power in the ever controversial European Union.

Both teams have brought great strife to England in previous international competitions. An excerpt from my 2010 blog:

  • World Cup 1966 – England defeated West Germany at Wembley. An anomoly.
  • World Cup 1970 – West Germany defeated England in the quarter-final in extra time.
  • World Cup 1982 – England drew against West Germany in the second round group stage, costing them a place in the semi-final, which the Germans later won.
  • World Cup 1986 – Argentina defeated England in the quarter-final.
  • World Cup 1990 – West Germany defeated England in the semi-final on penalties.
  • Euro ’96 – Germany defeated England in the semi-final on penalties.
  • World Cup 1998 – Argentina defeated England in the round-of-16 on penalties.
  • World Cup 2010 – Germany 4, England 1 in the round-of-16.

Who will you support this evening?

Choose wisely, but don’t expect it to make a difference…

HMS Dauntless: A peace-keeping deterrent in the South Atlantic

I reckon few Britons know this (and for that matter, probably few Argentines). The Falkland Islands are not ‘just off the Argentine coast’. At the closest point, they are 185 nautical miles (or 213 statute miles) from Isla de los Estados, just off the south east tip of Argentina. They are about 250 miles (nautical) from the mainland coast.

Argentina accepts the principle that in international maritime law, territorial waters stretch to 12 miles offshore. That’s a key point  in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. The 162 signatories include Argentina and the United Kingdom.

The Falkland Islands
185 nautical miles separate Argentina and ‘Islas Malvinas’

So – at the closest point – the Falkland Islands, or Islas Malvinas, lie 15 times beyond Argentina’s territorial waters. The distance is such that a sailor bound from one territory to the other would not see land for 80% of the journey. The Falklands are as far from Argentina as London is from Paris or Amsterdam. They are twice as far as Cuba is from mainland Florida.

At that distance, the Falkland Islands obviously lie beyond Argentina’s territorial waters. But the UN treaty also spells out the definition of a country’s exclusive economic zone. That’s up to 200 miles offshore. The Falkland Islands are just within that radius.

It’s quite understandable that Argentina should want to exploit resources (such as oil and fish) inside its EEZ. But then the United Kingdom wants to do the same.

Both countries claim sovereignty over the islands. International recognition is varied, and the United Nations is neutral on the issue. But Argentina’s difficulty is that the Union Flag flies over the islands. And, since the war in 1982, no British government dare let them go.

The prospect of oil near the Falklands has been envisaged for several decades, but the first successful strike wasn’t until 2010. The islands have long been of great symbolic significance to both the UK and Argentina, but now there is a significant economic interest too. That is more than can be said for Northern Ireland, in which a previous British government said it had “no selfish economic or strategic interest” (Peter Brooke, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, November 1990). I know of no revision to this.

As with Northern Ireland, the deciding principle should be that of self-determination: the right of the Falkland Islanders to decide their own future. That principle is enshrined in the United Nation’s founding charter, and it represents the United Kingdom’s strongest argument.

The Falkland Islands have never had a native people. The people who live there now – mainly descendants of the plantation – are the only stakeholders to the question of self-determination. Overwhelmingly, they consider themselves British, and we should respect that.

But there is an awkward stalemate. Argentina suffered a military defeat in 1982. It surrendered its occupation, but not the question of sovereignty. Now despite (indeed because of) its presence in the region, the United Kingdom is losing influence in South America, where other nations back Argentina’s claim.

As oil investors are tempted into the region, they will want the question of sovereignty resolved. It would be a risky venture to invest in Falkland oil without assurances about the stability of the contracts. It is in the interests of Argentina to play up those risks.

I believe there is no near-term prospect of a deal with Argentina; certainly not on the essential question of sovereignty. Without a deal, the United Kingdom must be ultra-steadfast on its defence of the islands. As Argentina revisits its ambitions, it’s no surprise the Royal Navy destroyer HMS Dauntless has been sent to the region. The British government described that deployment as ‘routine’. But if Buenos Aires is concerned about the ‘militarisation’ of the South Atlantic, at least it has got the message.

The UK is not about to go  to war with Argentina. Perhaps – as a deterrent – HMS Dauntless will help keep the peace.

Capello – the most successful England manager of all time?

On the face of it, England did rather well. A great performance in qualifying and undefeated in Group C. They made it through to the final 16 of the World Cup and even scored against Germany. Twice.

I was on a (pre-booked) train during most of the match. I wasn’t expecting to watch it, but when I got my laptop out various strangers took an interest and chipped in for internet access from T-Mobile via the Virgin connection. But the live video was unavailable because of BBC copyright concerns that we might be in some foreign country rather than rolling through the shires between Birmingham New Street and London Euston.

So for a rather bizarre hour or so, four strangers sat around a BBC text site updating us on the dazzling developments every 30 seconds.

It was 2-1 when we left the train, and the rest is history. My mobile phone revealed the final scoreline later and I texted my commiserations to Vanessa.

Three Lions
The Pride of England

It would not be fair to measure Mr Capello’s performance based on the events of recent weeks. While his team played okay against against Slovenia, it was a somewhat less-than-satisfactory show in the other matches. But England won nine out of 10 games in qualifying. That is quite a performance.

The trouble is, England is always expected to qualify. And the manager will always be judged on his final few weeks (ie on the point of failure), especially by the British media.

I simply don’t know enough about football to judge Mr Capello. But I do know England have been short of any serious success for 44 years. Capello’s career in football covers the same era and he has not been short of success.

But here in England there is a wide acceptance that the England players are better than their World Cup performance. A belief that somehow the results are a deceit against the team. Fabio Capello was employed to do better than his predecessors (including such luminaries as Glenn Hoddle, Howard Wilkinson, Peter Taylor and Steve McClaren). He has outperformed them all.

Indeed my analysis of the statistics shows that – at competitive level – he has outperformed every manager in the team’s history. 10 wins to four draws or defeats (two each) is a success rate of 71%. It is an average of 2.3 points per game. Both stats are unrivaled in the team’s history. And it is the same headline fact when friendlies are taken into account.

Fabio Capello is the most successful England manager of all time.

He just lacks a trophy. Or an appearance in a worthy final. Or a semi-final. Or even a quarter-final! How depressing.

To see the team on the pitch, England’s performance in the World Cup matches was humiliating. My colleague, Ibrahim Mustapha has much to say about this at The Ibyss, including other issues for FIFA to explore following the referee’s failure to acknowledge Frank Lampard’s goal.

For me the biggest issue seems to be the opponent. Germany and Argentina are particularly problematic. Don’t mention the wars:

  • World Cup 1966 – England defeated West Germany at Wembley. An anomoly.
  • World Cup 1970 – West Germany defeated England in the quarter-final in extra time.
  • World Cup 1982 – England drew against West Germany in the second round group stage, costing them a place in the semi-final, which the Germans later won.
  • World Cup 1986 – Argentina defeated England in the quarter-final.
  • World Cup 1990 – West Germany defeated England in the semi-final on penalties.
  • Euro 96 – Germany defeated England in the semi-final on penalties.
  • World Cup 1998 – Argentina defeated England in the round-of-16 on penalties.
  • World Cup 2010 – Germany 4, England 1 in the round-of-16.

If this pattern sounds familiar it shoudn’t be a surprise. This stuff really happened. England keep meeting the same opponents, time and again. And losing.

Let us assume they will keep facing the same teams. There are other questions to explore. Are there systemic problems which cause the team to underperform? Are the players too tired after a tough season? Is the Premiership style of play unsuited to international football? Are the WAGs a bad influence? Is the press too hard on the little lambs? Has the coaching style been too relaxed (Sven)? Or too tough (Fabio)?

The World of Wad does not have all the answers. It never does. I leave such erudition to others.

In the meantime, I must go and check whether Northern Ireland made it through to the quarter-finals…

UPDATE: I honestly don’t think this is the time to sack Capello although the mood has been overwhelmingly against him. It seems FA board members are swinging behind him, although this could be led as much by financial concerns as by football.