After witnessing Barcelona’s masterclass against Manchester United, not to mention some lung-busting play-off fare, Wembley is braced for a comedown on Saturday afternoon when a patched-up, pedestrian England return to our collective consciousness.
It’s been over two months since Fabio Capello’s men last held our attention, and if we’re honest we haven't missed them. Who needs Frank Lampard and Scott Parker when you’ve got Xavi and Iniesta for entertainment?
Most would agree England’s Euro 2012 qualifier against Switzerland is a hard one to get excited about. No Steven Gerrard, no Wayne Rooney, and a place on the footballing calendar that gives it the feel of a gentle end-of-season stretch before the awards buffet.
It’s a wonder England’s finest can still meet their cheesy summer holiday requirements these days – what with the friendly season barely a month away and qualifiers for the Champions League and Europa League proper not soon after. Football is the sport that never sleeps. Sometimes it’s exhausting.
But don’t be fooled by your apathy. It’s still only Thursday, and this being England, we can all expect to be fully engaged by Friday night and quivering with excitement as we wake on Saturday. “Where are you watching the game?” will be the question up and down the country. Evenings will be planned around it, off licenses raided.
As kick off nears, even the most cynical among us will be seduced by thoughts of Jack Wilshere ghosting past a half-dozen Swiss defenders before curling a 30-yarder into the top corner, or Darren Bent scoring a hat-trick in a dominant 6-0 victory that sparks a miraculous Bent-inspired England run to glory at Euro 2012.
Who knows, it might just happen. And even writing this is bringing back those feelings of optimism I buried like three dead lions in a South African safari park this time last year. ‘England were appalling at this World Cup, remember that,’ I told myself. ‘And don’t ever again let yourself believe this hopeless nation to which you belong will EVER win a trophy…EVER.’
But here’s the thing. Potentially, England have a defence as good as any that will be at Euro 2012. In midfield, they boast a genuine ‘could-be-the-next-Gascoigne’ talent in Wilshere, a match-winner in Gerrard and a stable of young, lightning fast wingers improving with every season. Rooney is world-class, and on the evidence of his Champions League final performance appears finally ready to do it on the biggest stage.
And that’s why we’ll say this England team can win Euro 2012. And why what happens against Switzerland on Saturday doesn’t really matter. We believe what it takes to stay interested, and if that means suspending reality we’ll go along with it.
All of a sudden, Saturday's game is the most exciting of the season.