How I learned to stop worrying and love the Group of Death

12 Dec

As anyone who has ever watched Gordon Ramsay’s “The F Word” will testify, shock value is a cheap trick.  In Ramsay’s case, it wasn’t even a particularly successful trick as, by 2005, the British public had become largely anaesthetised to the shocking nature of the “F” word.  Had Ramsay upped the stakes and called the show “The C Word”, a few more eyebrows might have been raised.  The minute that Gordon demands someone passes him “the c**ting paprika”, we’re all sitting up and taking notice.

But, even then, the shock value would still ring pretty hollow.  A gimmick to boost viewing figures and nothing more.  Ramsay didn’t really want to swear at all those people; there was no anger in his eyes.  His contestants were just a load of middle-class berks, trying to impress a celebrity by showing him how well they could whisk an egg or grill some mushrooms.  How annoyed could he have possibly been with them?

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Too Good wouldn’t dream of treating its readers with such a low level of regard.  If there’s something shocking to be said on these pages, there had better be a jolly good reason for it.  And so it is with great caution that I make the following, rather jarring, announcement of my own.  Brace yourself…

I’m glad England have got a tough group at the World Cup.

You heard me.  Glad.

Such fearless pluck in the face of adversity hasn’t always been a quality I could lay claim to.  For years, I was terrified by the prospect of who England would get pitted against in major tournaments.  During the draw for the group stages, I could reliably be found peeping out from behind the sofa while FIFA dignitaries fumbled with their shiny balls.  The relief would wash over me when a Tunisia or a Trinidad & Tobago would be drawn into the same mini-league as England.

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Not any more, though.  This time around I wanted Blatter’s cronies to give me their best shot.

It’s not just wanton bravado either.  I think a tough group will help England to do well.  If you’ve seen Steven Seagal in the motion picture Under Siege, you will know that the best performances in life typically come from situations where the protagonist is forced to hit the ground running.  Being gently eased into a World Cup is no more helpful than being gently eased into a shark tank.  If we’re going in, let’s go in swinging.

I’ve been on a few first dates in my time, and the ones that went best were the ones where I was up against it from minute one.  Ice-skating.  Pottery classes.  Even vegetarian restaurants.  The more challenging the scenario, the more I would come storming out of my corner as soon as the bell tolled.  As a result of being jump-started into action, nothing seemed insurmountable.  Put my mouth guard in, smear my face with Vaseline and send me off for a three hour date at the opera.  I was fearless.

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Openers against Italy and Uruguay will alert the mind and prime the senses.  We’ll practically have steam coming off us by the time the knock-out stages arrive.  Think about it, if you have a game coming up against, say, Spain, what’s the better preparation for it – matches against Switzerland[1], Honduras and Australia?  Or duels against top class opposition?  This draw is a blessing, not a burden, and we should see it as such.  An opportunity to gain revenge on the Italians.  A gilt-edged chance to send Luis Suarez home early.  I wouldn’t swap these encounters for all the coffee in Costa Rica.

I’ve had a good look at the various algorithms that predict our chances of getting out of this so-called Group of Death.  Complex mathematical formulae have been pored over.  Eschewing the Black-Scholes valuation model, and throwing confidence intervals to the wind, I’ve gone for the one thing that I know will drill down into the truth.  A pie chart.

Tell us, magic pie chart, what are our chances of escaping the group?

Pie Chart

There you have it.  Better than evens.  Don’t go giddily accepting any wedding invitations in early July just yet. 

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A bit of sheer terror is exactly what we need.  Lord knows the weight of expectation has buried many a previous England team.  Let’s get thrown in against some genuine competitors and see if that doesn’t charge the electrodes.  I bet you all the grooves in Gordon Ramsay’s chin that we’ll up our game as a result. 

Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.  We won’t know what we are capable of until Joe Hart has pulled off a double-save from a weakly struck Andre Pirlo penalty.  We won’t know what we might become until Jamie Milner has run rings around a bamboozled Uruguayan left-back.  Quite simply, we cannot lay a finger on greatness until we emerge from a difficult group with Pele describing Jordan Henderson as his player of the tournament so far.

Some of the world’s greatest achievements were accomplished by people not smart enough to know that such feats were impossible.  As fortune would have it, Hodgson’s heroes are not smart.  What’s more, they have sold their fear for the bargainous sum of a tough group.  The pressure’s off and the history books have yet to be written.  England are coming.

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Like a bachelor on his third eHarmony date of the week, England just have to buckle down and get on with it.

Like a bachelor on his third eHarmony date of the week, England just have to buckle down and get on with it.


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[1] Too Good’s legal budget isn’t large enough to consider this in too much detail (especially since we don’t know any good lawyers), however, suffice to say that a few knowing nods were exchanged on being informed that Sepp Blatter’s home country, Switzerland, had somehow found their way into the top-seeded pot.

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