England seeks own version of 'happy football' at World Cup
NIZHNY NOVGOROD, Russia (AP) — The England soccer team is apparently described in China as one of those that plays "happy football." It's not meant as a compliment.
At the World Cup, a Chinese reporter revealed to England coach Gareth Southgate on Saturday that the term coined on Chinese social media — and best translated as "happy football" — is in fact used to describe teams or players that make "ridiculous mistakes."
"Oh," Southgate said when the full explanation came.
England's history at major soccer tournaments is well-known. A series of dramatic failures, often through penalty shootouts, has meant the country that gave football to the world hasn't managed to add to its one World Cup title in 1966.
Southgate, as he pointed out himself, is "one of the most guilty" when it comes to English calamities. He missed the penalty that saw England eliminated on home soil in the semifinals of the 1996 European Championship.
"We have decades of those incidents," Southgate said.
But Southgate also said that his young team isn't burdened by that litany of painful losses.
"History is not the important thing for this team," he said. "They have an opportunity to create their own history and they should be excited about that. They're a young team who are going to get better and better."
England has allowed itself a glimmer of hope of a positive experience at this World Cup in Russia. The youth running through the squad is a big part of that. More than half of the players are 25 or younger, and only three are in their 30s.
And while England has fallen foul of high expectations many times before, there were moments in the 2-1 win over Tunisia in the first group game that suggested this team isn't as tense as previous ones.
"I really enjoy working with all of them," Southgate said, "and I'm intrigued to see how far they can go and how well they can play."
Then responding directly to the Chinese reporter, Southgate said: "I hope we give you a different sort of happy football over the next few weeks."
England plays Panama on Sunday in its second game, when a win would take it through to the last 16 and set up a meeting with Japan, Senegal, Poland or Colombia.
Along with England's youth, there's also an air of adventure.
Evidence for that might be found in the squad's openness to trying the traditional Argentine herbal tea mate (mah-TAY). Mate is extremely popular with Argentina and Uruguay players, but it has won over some of the English too.
So much so that there's a battle between mate and good old English tea in the camp.
"I know some of the guys have been drinking it (mate) ... but we also have a lot of Yorkshire tea drinkers in our squad," Southgate said. "We're English, so we're obviously big tea drinkers."