Hard to Handle

In 1950, England and the United States found themselves in the same opening group at the World Cup in Brazil.┬áBecause of a dispute with FIFA, this was England’s debut at the tournament and it was widely accepted that they would be the team to beat. The United States had made it to the semi-finals at the inaugural World Cup in 1930, but their hastily-assembled team was only expected to make up the numbers in Brazil. In fact, the England team was 3/1 to lift the Jules Rimet trophy, while the States were 500/1 outsiders. The England squad was comprised of professional players such as Stanley Matthews, Stan Mortensen, Billy Wright and Tom Finney, while the US team was filled with semi-professionals who also worked as schoolteachers, dishwashers and mailmen. The England team had just played three internationals in preparation for their trip to South America, while the North Americans had trained together for the first time on the day before they left for Brazil. On June 25th, England debuted with a 2-0 win over Chile and Spain won 3-1 against the USA

On the afternoon of June 29th, England took on the States in Belo Horizonte and were expected to win easily to set up the group decider with Spain, who had earlier beaten Chile by 2-0. England began well and had a number of chances to score, but were denied by Frank Borghi in the US goal and, on a couple of occasions, by the woodwork. With less than ten minutes of the first half remaining, the deadlock was broken. However, it wasn’t England but the Americans who took the lead when Joe Gaetjens deflected a Walter Bahr cross past Bert Williams in the England goal. The second half continued in a similar fashion as Borghi continued to deny England and the US held out for a famous 1-0 win. It’s hard to imagine now, but this World Cup wasn’t covered live on television nor was it broadcast on the radio. News of the result was conveyed by telegram and by newsreel. Back in England, it was initially thought that the result was a misprint and the presumption was that their boys had triumphed by 10-0! It was a bad day all around for English sport that day as their cricket team had also lost to the West Indies for the first time. No American newspaper had sent a reporter to the World Cup, but one did go at his own expense and his report was taken up all over the country even though The New York Times thought it was a practical joke and refused to run the story

In the final games in the group, Spain beat England 1-0 and Chile beat the US 5-2. Spain easily topped the group and, even though they finished second, England were on their way home as only one team progressed to the final four. Spain competed with hosts Brazil, Sweden and Uruguay for the trophy, drawing with eventual champions Uruguay, but losing to Brazil and Sweden as Spain finished bottom and fourth. This still remains Spain’s best performance at a World Cup finals to date. England went on to win the trophy as hosts in 1966, while the United States had to wait 40 years before they would qualify again. This year, they are making their sixth consecutive appearance at the finals and have yet again managed to avoid defeat to England

Even though England were still favourites going into their opening game in South Africa, it was felt that the match would be close and that a single goal would be enough to give Wayne Rooney and company the victory. The opening goal came after just four minutes and was a well-taken effort by the England captain, Steven Gerrard, whose shot with the outside of his right boot cleverly evaded Tim Howard. Instead of building on this lead, the English team lost their way and the US grew in confidence. Just before half time, a speculative shot by Clint Dempsey from outside the box seemed to pose no difficulty for Rob Green, but the England ‘keeper didn’t put his body behind the ball and it bounced off him and rolled into the net to make the score 1-1. Both teams had chances in the second half, but the USA kept their shape and their composure and fully deserved to avoid defeat against a poor England team. The following four tunes go out to Rob Green and to the other goalkeepers at the World Cup

Hard To Handle – Otis Redding

Careless Hands – The Coral

Handle With Care (Traveling Wilburys cover) – Jenny Lewis & the Watson Twins

Slow Hands (Interpol cover) – Zee Avi

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