England’s defeat to Ukraine on Saturday might just have been the best result for Fabio Capello’s men in the circumstances.
The Three Lions had already qualified for next summer’s World Cup finals so from an England point of view the qualifier in Dnipro was a dead rubber and just as well as they were humbled 1-0.
But after eight consecutive wins and the weight of expectation growing, England were brought down to earth with a bump, but it could be a blessing in disguise.
Capello was chasing the perfect 10 from qualifying, but with that record would almost certainly have come a tidal wave of blind patriotic optimism from the press.
It’s fine having confidence and England will travel to South Africa in determined mood, but being built up as World Cup ‘certs’ has not been helpful in the past and will certainly be a hindrance next summer.
Saturday’s defeat was a timely reminder that against world-class opposition one slip of concentration can be catastrophic – especially in a knock-out tournament.
Rio Ferdinand looked rusty and his error led to the sending off of fall guy Rob Green and from there on in England were up against it with 10 men and their football betting odds took a hit.
A repeat next summer could be fatal, but Capello is shrewd enough to focus his squad on Saturday night’s failings and they will have learnt more from that defeat than they have in the previous eight victories.
Whether the weekend’s slip up will be enough to prevent every player and pundit alike tipping up England for glory in the red tops next summer is unlikely, but it might just keep a lid on the hopes of a nation.