World Cup 6 Days

World Cup hysteria grips England as game against United States nears

(Maxim Malinovsky/agence France Presse/getty Images)
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By Karla Adam
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 5, 2010

LONDON -- Although England's opening match against the United States in the World Cup is still a week away, signs of the hysteria that will soon consume the national psyche are already here:

Red-and-white national flags are flapping from the roofs of cars; English striker Wayne Rooney has been deified by the tabloids; pubs are full of chatter about why this year's squad will be the one to end what many here call the "44 years of hurt" -- the span since the country that prides itself for having invented the game last won the World Cup.

The fragile nerves of English fans will be tested, not for the first time this year, on June 12 when England plays its first game against the United States in Rustenburg, South Africa.

Undeterred by the inconvenient fact that England has not won a World Cup since 1966, England's fans are among the most loyal and enthusiastic in the world.

"We have as good of chance of winning this year as any," said Chris Hilditch, 36, the manager of the Shakespeare pub in Manchester who last week legally changed his name to Fabio Capello, the name of England's coach. Ten members of his staff also followed suit, officially changing their names to Wayne Rooney.

"We're trying to get the community geared up and behind England," Hilditch said. "I may change my name back, but it all depends on whether or not we win."

Mark Perryman, head of the London England Fans club and one of the estimated 25,000 supporters from England planning to be in South Africa for the World Cup, said that "our most crucial game is against the USA. They aren't pushovers but it's cold and wet in South Africa and that favors us."

England's final squad of 23 was announced on Tuesday and, in addition to Rooney, includes notable players such as midfielders Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard, and John Terry, the defender whose personal life threatened to derail England's bid for the World Cup before it officially began.

While the private lives of England's soccer stars are fixtures in Britain's tabloids -- the "wives and girlfriends" of the players even have their own acronym, WAGs -- rarely do related sex scandals directly impact the team.

But in February, an alleged caper involving Terry did just that. He was accused of having an affair with a lingerie model who was the former girlfriend of his England teammate, Wayne Bridge, and mother of Bridge's child.

Terry, who is married, attempted to stop the allegations from being reported, but despite applying for legal injunctions, or perhaps because of it, the tabloids covered the story with gusto. Terry was stripped of the team captaincy and Bridge left the team, saying his presence was "potentially divisive."

"Normally England waits until the quarterfinals to stage their implosion but this time hearts are being broken early," wrote Paul Hayward in the Guardian.

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