"Let’s not get too carried away." The FA chairman Greg Dyke’s suggestion in a radio interview the morning after England qualified for Brazil 2014 ought to be engraved on tablets of stone and positioned above the entrance to Wembley.
As an analysis of the national mood it could not be bettered. Though in truth Dyke may already be too late in his call for moderation. The moment the final whistle sounded last night, expectation began to surge in an upward direction.
Actually, it was happening even before the whistle was blown. After Steven Gerrard scored the decisive goal, the television cameras picked out two middle aged England supporters in the Wembley crowd cavorting with glee.
Gerrard later called his goal “a relief for everyone”. But these two took it as something more. One of them had a replica of the World Cup in his hands and was flourishing it with unbridled enthusiasm.
The assumption was clear: England are on their way to Rio not just to compete, but to bring home the trophy.
After a twitchy, nervy, less than authoritative qualification process, England have made it. They are one of the 32 elite footballing nations of the world. Which, Dyke suggested in his interview, ought to be considered achievement enough. But it won’t be.
Like childbirth, the pain of getting there is quickly being forgotten. Now, even media outlets who ought to know better like the Guardian are advising us via a front page editorial this morning to stock up on beer, buy ourselves a big telly and get ready for possible glory.
The path from “you’ve got to buy a ticket to be in the lottery” to “now you’ve got a ticket you’re bound to win” is one swiftly followed. Never mind that the chances of winning the jackpot in the National Lottery - 1 in 13,983,816 – roughly equate to Gerrard’s chances of lifting the trophy in Rio, the buzz has begun.
It is not just in England where we have such unreasonable assumptions about our wider abilities.
For a memory of how others get stupidly giddy with the thought, it is well worth reading the historian Dominic Sandbrook’s wonderful book about the 1970s, Seasons in the Sun. Particularly his account of Ally McLeod’s woeful World Cup campaign with Scotland in 1978.
With the gift of hindsight, McLeod’s fizzing optimism looks nothing less than ridiculous. Never has the gap between hope and reality been so ruthlessly exposed as it was in Argentina that year.
But the truth is, silly as he now appears, McLeod was merely the lightning rod of wider public expectation: much of Scotland seemed to lose all sense of perspective in the assumption that the Tartan Army would conquer the world.
Nor are the Scots an isolated example. From North Korea to Brazil, the experience is much the same: it is part of human nature to assume the trophy is yours for the taking. With the inverse that anything less than total victory is total failure.
The funny thing with England, after years of thinking our prospects were better than they turned out to be, is that you can already sense that the very lack of official expectation this time round will be taken as evidence that we might do better than that.
Even Dyke followed up his plea for moderation by saying “in football, you never know”. And his interview on Radio 4 was preceded by a piece about Wayne Rooney, undoubtedly the man of the match at Wembley last night, in which it was suggested that, with the weight of expectation lifted from his shoulders, this could at last be the tournament in which he properly exhibits his match-winning abilities.
In other words: because we don’t think we can win it, Wayne can win it for us.
You can guarantee that, in the acreage of coverage of England’s qualification furring up the newspapers over the next week, there will be several pieces headlined “How England can win the World Cup”. They will point up how unlikely such a possibility that is, even as they tell us how it could happen.
Well sure, England could win the World Cup. But then it is possible that Alan Carr could have a passionate affair with Miley Cyrus. Actually, thorough statistical analysis might suggest the latter is more likely.
The good news for England’s players is that they appear to have a man in charge of sufficient mental resolve to be able to negotiate his way through the coming months of froth and hype without succumbing to McLeod-style hysteria.
If you want a realist then Roy Hodgson is the man. So far his level-headed, phlegmatic common sense seems to have communicated itself to a squad who exhibited considerable patience and self-belief in the two games at Wembley that concluded their qualification campaign.
If he maintains his rational, realistic approach then there is absolutely no reason why his England team cannot reach the very fullest extent of their potential in Brazil.
In which case, we should all ready ourselves for a penalty shoot-out in the quarter finals. And we know how that will go.