The visit of world champions Spain to Wembley on Saturday was supposed to be the occasion on which England would be eviscerated by a far superior side. When a national team's mechanical and structural failings were laid bare by arguably the greatest collection of technicians world football has seen. When an almighty reality check would be administered to a team with no hope of triumphing at the Euros next summer.
The contest was all set to replicate the lesson dished out by the Magical Magyars at Wembley in 1953 as Hungary exposed England's approach to the game as Neanderthal. Not in terms of shock value of course - we all expected England to get torn apart by Spain on Saturday, while by contrast a nation's insular pomposity was well and truly pricked by Puskas, Kocsis and Hidegkuti - but in the manner of the imminent Iberian victory, the style and swagger with which Spain would nonchalantly dispose of Fabio Capello's cloggers.
It would, in short, be the night on which England were confirmed as very much a second-rank nation in European football. Strangely enough, despite an entirely unexpected 1-0 win for the home side, it still did - and England may be all the better for it.
For too often - generations, even - England have possessed a superiority complex that is as mystifying as it is hilarious. Even after losing to Germany at the 2010 World Cup there were pundits wondering how many of Joachim Loew's gloriously talented young side would get into England's first XI, despite a thumping 4-1 defeat in Bloemfontein. Erm... basically all of them.
But at Wembley on Saturday, despite the final score being in England's favour, there was not a hint of excessive expectation, of triumphalism, of entitlement.
That much was evident when Capello sent his side out to park the bus with extreme prejudice. Packing 10 men behind the ball and leaving Darren Bent completely isolated 50 yards away was a nod to Spain's reputation, a concession that England were an inferior side and would not try and compete on level terms with the masters of tiki-taka.
Capello recognised the limitations inherent in his team and acted upon them. He hinted as much in the build-up to the contest when boldly admitting: "We have good players of our own but not good enough to try to have the style of play which Spain has. You cannot think of playing one-touch if you do not have the quality.
"I think they've got a lot of top players. They have a lot of players who are really good when you've got the ball, really good at winning back the ball. This is the new football style - winning back the ball quickly. It's a big mistake to copy this style. You need to play the style to fit the kind of players you've got in your squad."
England were not arrogant enough to think they could beat Spain in an open contest as they shunned the country's usual gung-ho spirit, a feeling deep-rooted in English culture that you must always take the game to opponents, in favour of constriction and suffocation. How often can you say that about the national team in recent years?
It was a mark of respect that extended to the stands as well. Foreign anthems are often booed at Wembley; Spain's was immaculately observed. David Silva, Xavi and Andres Iniesta were afforded warm receptions by a crowd that has verbally abused its own players with alarming regularity in recent seasons. The only man not to escape the wrath of Wembley was Fernando Torres, which puzzled ED as it thought most fans would appreciate his ongoing efforts not to score against their clubs. Perhaps there were plenty of Chelsea fans in.
Realism, then, was in abundance: from the stands to the pitch there was acceptance that England are not on a par with Spain, and this attitude benefited Capello and his side as they produced a performance that, whilst not pretty by any stretch of the imagination, had the desired effect of repressing the best side in international football.
Indeed, such was the extent to which the excellent Joleon Lescott, Scott Parker, Phil Jagielka and others frustrated Spain, the visiting players were forced to abandon their own style at times. In a rather moralistic interview prior to the game, Xabi Alonso had pontificated about how tackling was anathema to the Spanish philosophy of football, but seemingly no one had told Sergio Ramos as he launched into a two-footed challenge that could have brought a red card, nor Cesc Fabregas as he thudded into Jagielka.
ED grabbed a quick word with Mr Alonso in the Wembley mixed zone - only after requests to chat with Xavi and Andres Iniesta in English were met with a patronising pat and outright laughter respectively - and the Real Madrid midfielder spoke of England as though they were a lower league side in a cup tie.
"We could expect this kind of performance," he said. "We had control and most of the possession but it was difficult for us to create chances because they were defending so deep. They have been lucky enough to score from that set-piece but we have to perform better in those situations and at the end we had a few chances.
"I was not really surprised by England's approach. Most of the teams, they are playing really deep. We saw that in the World Cup. We can see the respect they have because they know our qualities and for us it is not a surprise that most of the teams try to defend deep - but that is part of football."
Alonso is right, of course: England were not, are not, on Spain's level. Vicente del Bosque's side dominated possession with their usual zeal, suffered from a couple of dodgy offside decisions and saw David Villa strike the post. They had 21 shots to England's three. They should have won the match. To his credit, Frank Lampard, captain for the day, was certainly in no mood to start indulging in triumphalism after a narrow 1-0 win.
"We've got to be realistic," Lampard said. "We know they dominate a lot of the game and I think our back four, and Scott Parker in front, were absolutely fantastic. They've not let them play through the 18-yard box like they always try to do.
"We have to be realistic and understand we're not where we want to be quite yet and we've beaten a great team. We have to build from that and carry on. We have to remain level-headed about it and keep working through, maybe taking some lessons from then on how to keep the ball and the way they play."
As Lampard intimates, this was still very much a learning process for England despite the win. A night to be humble, to be introverted, and they were rewarded for adopting such an attitude. Victorious England may have been, but this was still a night in which reality hit home.
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QUOTE OF THE DAY: "For the same reason that there are albinos in Africa, snakes with two heads and Japanese over two metres tall, England beat Spain at Wembley. It was anomaly, a caprice of fate." - Spanish journalist Luis Nieto in the opening paragraph of his match report in Spanish football daily AS.
FOREIGN VIEW: "I have to confess a secret. I love the Premier League. What a great league. Of course I would like to play there before retiring." - Alessandro del Piero makes ED go weak at the knees at the thought of the legendary Italian forward playing in England before he hangs up his boots.
COMING UP: The international wheel keeps on spinning this evening as England's U21s face a tricky trip to play Belgium U21s. Follow live coverage of that game at 19:45. Before that, we will be seeing the latest columns from Paul Parker and Pitchside Europe.