Guardian Sport holds two of my favourite piece of football writing. I’ll probably post my #1 but until then, you can read #2: an imagining of England at the 1994 FIFA World Cup in USA. Here’s an excerpt:
England’s 1994 World Cup squad
Goalkeepers: Seaman, Martyn, Flowers
Defenders: Pearce, Pallister, Adams, Walker, Dixon, Keown, Le Saux
Midfielders: Platt (c), Ince, Sharpe, Anderton, Batty, Merson, Palmer, Barnes
Forwards: Shearer, Ferdinand, Wright, Beardsley
England began their campaign against Mexico at the RFK Stadium in Washington. Despite improvement to an ankle injury suffered in a pre-tournament warm-up win over the USA in Orlando, the game came too early for Paul Ince, so David Batty was drafted into the centre of midfield. The relatively merciful 4pm kick-off on a warm day in Washington helped England, as they began purposefully. Garishly attired goalkeeper Jorge Campos was forced to tip over the bar from Adams and then Wright in the opening exchanges, with the Mexicans forced back. As the first half wore on, however, England’s initial gusto evaporated and Mexico began to dominate possession.
At half-time, with England comfortable but making little impact, Taylor resisted making any changes. Wright had repeatedly been implored to exploit the channels but the midfield struggled to keep enough possession to supply him. Just after the hour mark came the hammer blow for England, albeit the goalscoring jolt that the game sorely needed as a spectacle. Mexican left-back Ramon Ramirez had already had a couple of sighters in the first half and advanced into space, 35 yards from goal. It seemed a little wide to take the shot on, but his thumping effort took Seaman by surprise and, via the heel of Pallister, flew in at his near post. The sizeable Mexican crowd erupted, while Taylor turned to his bench. Batty’s security was sacrificed for Beardsley’s invention.
Mexico responded by shutting up shop and, try as Beardsley might, England rarely found an opening in the final third. A John Barnes free-kick flashed wide as Campos scrambled across his line, but Mexico were otherwise unruffled. Taylor’s men trudged off to frustrated sighs in the ITV studio. ENGLAND WILT IN WASHINGTON and YOU’RE WASHED UP were the back-page condemnations the next morning, as Taylor was busy reacquainting himself with his drawing board.