One of the most telling moments of England’s World Cup build-up came off the pitch, away from the players, crowds and live TV cameras on the night of a laboured 1-0 win over Denmark at Wembley in March.
Denmark coach Morten Olsen, completing his post-match news conference turned back to the mass of reporters as he left the auditorium and shouted: “Good luck in the World Cup – you need it!”
As well as producing howls of spontaneous laughter, it crystallised in nine words what most people think about England’s return to the land of their greatest soccer humiliation – it is doomed to failure.
Even the chairman of the Football Association Greg Dyke does not appear to think much of their chances.
At the draw for the finals in December, when England were grouped with four-times champions Italy, twice winners Uruguay and stubborn Central American middleweights Costa Rica, Dyke was caught on camera grimacing and making a throat-slitting gesture.
He later back-tracked, brushing it off as a joke, but there are, nonetheless, real fears about 1966 world champions England failing to make it out of the group stage, which has only happened twice before, in 1950 and 1958.
For once the hyperbole that normally surrounds England`s chances ahead of major tournaments has been muted and it would surprise few if they left before the knockout stages start on June 28.