David Hirshey will write regularly during the World Cup.
Poor old Paul Hucker. For 83 minutes yesterday, as England teetered on the brink of a humiliating 0-0 tie with Trinidad & Tobago, the man who famously took out a $1.85 million insurance policy to inoculate himself against the psychological trauma of his beloved Three Lions being knocked out of the World Cup early, looked like a bleedin' genius instead of the gormless wanker he probably is. So just to prove that Huckers are born every minute, and that England is not as comically inept as they showed for all but the last seven minutes, Sven's men overcame the valiant Soca Warriors with two late goals. Blimey!
Is this any way to win the World Cup that both Erickson and Lazarus Rooney have guaranteed will reside proudly next to the one they last won 40 years ago? I mean, if they huff and puff against a tiny Caribbean nation of 1.1 million — whose entire team, with the exception of former ManU supermodel-shagger Dwight Yorke, earns less than ONE of England's cashalicious millionaires — what are their chances against Germany or Ecuador in the next round? "You have not seen the best of us," promised the English captain David Beckham, dispensing one of his rocket-science insights, "We know we can get better and we just have to prove it."
What England proved yesterday is that on any given day they have an uncanny ability to sink to the occasion. Faced with what was an egregious mismatch on paper — the majority of the T&T squad plays their football in England's lower divisions — they regressed to a Paleolithic game plan of hoof n' hope. Much of the hoofing was done by Beckham, whose raking 30-yard crosses and signature free kicks more often than not were repelled by the nine T&T players in the penalty box who turned away interlopers with desperate resolve. To be fair, Beckham did deliver a couple of money balls to the Great Tall Hope Peter Crouch, who oafishly shanked them somewhere in the vicinity of Nuremberg's old courthouse. England fans, not being the most patient lot, greeted Crouch's twinkletoed displays not with paroxysms of mirth but with anguished cries of "Rooooooooney, Roooooooney". In the 59th minute, their prayers were answered when Erickson, bereft of any other attacking ideas, sent England's savior into the game to replace the feckless Michael Owen. If you listened closely, you could hear the sickening sound of a certain knighted, purple-faced Manchester United manager breaking HIS metatarsal by furiously kicking a shoe across the room.
Even though clearly not match fit, Rooney immediately ratcheted up the energy level, running at defenders with pace and menace and then tracking back to dispossess a T&T attacker. It was an emphatic reminder of how much this England team depends on the gifted and pugnacious 20-year-old to galvanize them. And yet Rooney was not directly involved in the play that saved England's tea and crumpets. That honor fell to Beckham and Crouch, who finally hooked up on a classic Montana to Rice route in the 83rd minute. From deep on the right touchline, Beckham looked up and found Crouch at the far post with a curling seeing-eye cross onto the big man's head. Crouch had managed to get airborne by grabbing the dreadlocks of T&T defender Brent Sancho and catapulting himself off the ground. A powerful nod of the Crouchian noggin, and the ball was in the net. When Gerrard added one of his patented thunderbolt goals at the death, England had survived to fight another day.
Let's hope that Paul Hucker's insurance policy covers the second round.
David Hirshey's column will return on Tuesday.