These haggard old press conferences are nothing if not predictable, but they remain royally entertaining. England's frantic 2-0 win against a Poland side of limited ability confirmed their place in the 2014 World Cup finals in Brazil, but the swelling of national pride does not halt at full-time. Realism is tossed to the wind when people suddenly want to know if Roy Hodgson's side are genuine contenders to bring home the old pot.
At 10.22pm last night, deep in the bowels of an enlivened Wembley Stadium, the now-former Poland coach Waldemar Fornalik was asked the question Hodgson will find himself fielding almost on a daily basis over the next eight months: How will England perform in Brazil roughly means 'Can England win the World Cup'?
The idea of Hodgson standing on the White Cliffs of Dover with the most recognisable trophy in global sport glistening in his mitts is one for the men in white coats to deal with.
Hodgson is a wise old owl. He would have been portrayed as a birdbrain if England had plummeted into a play-off situation. For now, he is not yet a vegetable. Or some form of livestock. The time for that comes later.
Unlike the Polish fan who bounded onto the pitch like a hefty big bison in his Rab C Nesbitt vest during the second half, Fornalik was not knocking back the Tyskies when he proclaimed England to be “contenders”.
Russia infamously unfurled an inflammatory flag in Poland during Euro 2012 saying: “This is Russia”. For Poles, London PLC is Poland. Wembley felt more like Warsaw. In such a febrile atmosphere, England’s workmanship was admirable here.
Hodgson could have entered the media conference to land of Hope and Glory such was the emotional state of some rabid hacks.
At the back of 10:30pm, some bloke with an unfettered mind asked Hodgson roughly the same question that had been worded slightly differently seconds earlier. He responded with a straight bat Graham Gooch would have been proud of, refusing to make any bold statements while compartmentalising his own mental luggage.
England toiled to escape from a group that resembles nothing close to the quality and conditions they will encounter in Brazil. And they only jumped the final fence by a point from Ukraine.
"If you want to win the lottery, buy a lottery ticket,” said Hodgson. “We have our ticket. I have great trust in my players that they will not let us down. We have got a chance.”
In a life of chance, Harry Redknapp could yet succeed Hodgson as England manager despite his scathing criticism of the Football Association. Redknapp has a chance that is probably akin to England's prospects.
Harry has a better chance of replacing Vicente del Bosque as Spain manager than England have of riding roughshod over their opponents in Brazil.
But he has a chance.
It is not blaspheming to wonder when England have been genuine contenders to win the World Cup. They reached the semi-finals in 1990 under Bobby Robson, but have not returned to the final since winning it in these parts in 1966.
Sven-Goran Eriksson and the 'Golden Generation' could progress no further than the last eight in 2002 and 2006. If you feel England are potential winners, we are in the midst of the gullible generation.
Some people will cite Greece's success at Euro 2004 under Otto Rehhagel and all his Teutonic goodness as proof that shocks happen. This is a nice philosophy, but false because England are not as stout as the Greeks. Nor will they will be allowed to submit themselves to such a caustic approach in the moment. It is not as if playing for penalties would help.
England possess players of technical limitations who are victims of emanating from a Premier League that is vastly overrated. Its wealth has wounded England's credibility in comparing themselves to similar-sized nations. Youth development has been neglected. English players are not all the rage in England.
They cannot keep the ball long enough, and ball retention is going to be such a crucial aspect of coping with corrosive conditions, especially in boiling outposts such as Recife, Salvador and Natal. How well will Andros Townsend’s all-action style go down there? No European team has conquered the Americas at World Cups. If Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard make it to Brazil, there is a fear rigor mortis might set in.
Gerrard's legs pumped like pistons to add the second goal. Lampard? The creakiness of his joints will need to be analysed over the next seven months, but there is already the clarion call for Ravel Morrison of West Ham United to be parachuted in.
As a time-served football prospector, Hodgson should be applauded for obliging his remit. Reaching the last 16 at the finals should be seen as a healthy achievement for this national side, but expectation levels are never far from farce. The thump when England hit the ground in finals can usually be felt from far-off places.
England will be built up to be something they are not. Newspapers may be a sunset industry, but so is England's style of play. One suspects they might be butchered by a more gifted side on the counter attack.
Leighton Baines is more of a left winger than a left-back. Wonderful going forward, but suspect in returning to base. Wayne Rooney scored last night. He remains the one player who gives England a slightly glossier look.
Astonishingly, it has been 20 years since the fly-on-the-wall documentary The Impossible Job that tailed the former manager Graham Taylor during England's doomed campaign to reach USA '94, a tournament where Hodgson coached Switzerland. "Get yourself up for it, man," Taylor told one journalist, who replied: "I just worry."
Taylor cut an exasperated figure. “Do I not like that. F***ing hell! We are in trouble here.” Last night Hodgson said “f**k me” on the touchline when Robert Lewandowski missed an obvious chance to score for Poland.
We are two decades on, but nothing much has changed. They no longer shout down telephones, but an army of analysts on laptops think they know better than Hodgson. This has always been the main problem. It must be difficult not to feel cynical about those in the hoary old tabloids who would cut your throat as fast as look at you.
Heroes and villains play side by side in the England squad. Build 'em up to knock 'em down is the British way. England are seventh or eighth favourites. They are priced between 18-1-33-1, but in real terms are a lot longer than that.
God save the Queen, God help the team. Natural law will take effect in good time. Buy the lottery ticket before you fly, Roy. You have more chance of six numbers than England have of winning seven games to strike football gold.
- Sports & Recreation
- Roy Hodgson