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Friday, 6 October 2017

Despite World Cup Qualification England no longer expects


England’s players lined up to congratulate each other following the win over Slovenia which assured World Cup qualification on Thursday but when they turned to acknowledge the crowd, they saw nothing more than thousands of empty red seats.

Wembley Stadium, which had been barely half full all night, had largely been vacated with only a 1,000 or so hardy souls remaining to salute Gareth Southgate’s squad.


A winner in the fourth minute of stoppage time -- as Harry Kane provided to rubberstamp England’s ticket to Russia -- could normally have been expected to spark joyous scenes and dreams of World Cup glory.

Instead, it arrived in almost surreal circumstances with the majority of the crowd having already lost interest in a match so puerile that fans spent most of the second half amusing themselves by constructing and flying paper aeroplanes.

It was all a bit different to the atmosphere at Old Trafford almost 16 years ago to the day when David Beckham’s last-gasp free kick earned England a 2-2 draw with Greece to seal a place at the 2002 World Cup finals in Japan and South Korea.

Then, it sparked a wave of euphoria and triggered months of rising expectations for Sven-Goran Eriksson’s side, who were supposed to have provided a match for anyone.

The following year it all went wrong in Shizuoka as England bowed out at the quarter-final stage to 10-man Brazil.

Another quarter-final defeat came four years later before Germany ensured an earlier exit in South Africa, and at the 2014 tournament in Brazil, England failed to even survive the group stage after defeats to Italy and Uruguay.

Last year’s Euro 2016 exit by Iceland sucked any remaining hope out of even the most diehard England optimists, so much so that Thursday’s laboured 1-0 win over Slovenia was greeted with casual indifference and mockery.

After watching England huff and puff against such modest opposition, many fans would have left wondering whether there is actually any point to booking hotels in Russia next year.

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