It is worth stating something that is blindingly obvious and yet often overlooked in the hysteria surrounding the national team: England’s peaks may be depressingly even, but the troughs have been negligible for many years now.
Since Sven-Goran Eriksson took over, the team have been consistently half-decent, in competitive matches, the world rankings and especially in World Cup terms, when compared with other countries. Handily enough, they also did all right in the previous World Cup, saving the debacle for Euro 2000, when at least they qualified.
England entered the world top eight, according to the FIFA rankings, in July 2002. Yes, they had just lost in the quarter-finals of the last World Cup, but that means only four teams did better than them. Think about it.
Eight teams did better than England’s last-16 exit at France 98. But of those, Argentina, France, Croatia failed to get out of their group in 2002 and Holland did not even qualify. Italy and Denmark (quarter-finals then last 16) have the same results as England, but the wrong way round with the higher achievement first, and Denmark have not qualified for this World Cup.
Only Brazil and Germany have bettered England in both the last two World Cups. No, honestly.
Aston Villa, though, are still rubbish.