And so, England qualified for the World Cup and will be in Friday's draw, with the minimum fanfare. England making international tournaments these days is reminiscent of an episode of The West Wing, in which a substandard vice-presidential candidate is forced upon the incumbent administration.
“Not the worst, not the best—just what we're stuck with,” says communications director Toby Ziegler when trying to come up with inspiring words about said candidate.
There is an idea about the England team that they are bad. They, in the wider scheme of things, are quite clearly not. They've only missed two tournaments in the last 25 years, are currently ranked 13th in the world, and are more often than not in the top 10. The lowest England have ever sunk is 27th, and that was in 1996, when they had no competitive games to play, having qualified for that year's European Championships as hosts. The harshest thing anyone can sensibly say about England is that they are average.
And there we come to the second idea, about their chances in Brazil. Obviously, England will not win, and anyone who says or thinks otherwise is simply deluded. Or Dave Whelan, who told Sky Sports recently:
I want to win it next year. Why don't we win it when we're in it now? We're in Brazil, let's go to Brazil and let's go there with the confidence and we've got the team.
Everybody thinks England can't do it. England can do it and we've got to believe in England, we've got to believe in ourselves. We should go to Brazil and think yeah, we can win this and do it. Let's go and get it.
There is a very clear difference between being bad and having a chance to make any sort of impression on the World Cup. There's a solid chance that, with a bad draw, England will not make it out of their group. They will probably be in Pot Two for the draw, meaning they could get lucky and be paired with Switzerland, the weakest top seed, along with Algeria from Pot Three and Costa Rica from Pot Four. Alternatively, a nightmare scenario could have them against Brazil, France and Mexico.
However, the likelihood is that England will qualify for the knockout rounds and lose against the first decent team they play in the second phase. As it has been in the past, and as it will be in the near future. England are so predictable that it is almost pointless getting too worked up about them, either good or bad.
As an Englishman, the most enjoyable recent tournament from a spectator's perspective was 2008, when England did not qualify. There was no jingoism to negotiate, no false expectations to deal with, no brow-furrowing debate before their inevitable elimination and no hand-wringing "What are we going to do now?" discussions after it. It was possible to simply enjoy three weeks of the best footballers on the continent be gathered before us.
England fans might be wise to treat Brazil 2014 as they did 2008, by simply imagining they aren't there. Or at the very least, treating their games as only slightly more important than the others, and not getting emotionally involved in any significant way. We all know what is going to happen, so why get worked up about it?
England: not the best, not the worst, just what we're stuck with.