If it's not the ruthless Romanians, it will be the niggly Nigerians or the French fanny-merchants or those Brazilians, cynically deploying their superior ball-skills. We cling to the fantasy as if believing will somehow bring it closer, but, deep down, we know that, soon or later, some twinkle- toed foreigner is going to tango his way through our lads and the dream will be over.
Are we ready for this moment? For any country, it would be difficult; for us, now the world's most sensitive and emotionally vulnerable nation, it could signal a wholesale psychic collapse. There will be rage, confusion, public weeping. Huge seismic shifts in political attitudes will take place. Families will fall apart. Tearful, red-eyed gangs will roam the streets, desperate to express their pain with bottle, boot or fist. Those who can't find a convenient target will simply beat themselves up.
None of this is necessary, so long as we are prepared for the worst and know, precisely and in advance, why the unthinkable has happened.
1. We gave the world this game and what did they do? They changed it.
Those sneaky little tricks, backheels and bicycle kicks and Blanco Bounces and triangular passes that you can't even see on the action replay, are all very well in their place - on a beach, in a barrio, bare-footed kids playing kickabout with a coconut between the grass huts - but on the pitch, in the greatest tournament in the world? Surely not.
Our lads may be left tackling thin air or sitting on their arses facing the wrong way but, at the end of the day, they will be the true winners. They played football the way it was meant to be played.
2. We gave the world this game and what did they do? They transformed it into a military exercise, cynically introducing tactics, formations, teamwork, the joyless teutonic efficiency of the parade-ground into the free-flowing game that we invented. They may have scored more goals than us but, in a deeper, aesthetic sense, we were victorious.
3. Mind you, they'll do anything to bring on a footballer, these so-called smaller nations. You know how they manage those bandy-legged runs? They take young footballers away from their villages and remove a small bone from the back of their knees which later in life enables them to do things our lads would rupture themselves even thinking about. Fair enough, if that's your attitude to the game, but it's just not part of our culture.
4. To be fair, our lads did very well considering they had been transported to a foreign country with inferior cookery, appalling weather, a poor disciplinary record when it comes to sexual morality, not to mention a habit of staying up well into the night discussing life, love, freedom and other things which simply keep our lads awake with worry.
5. It may be down to that moment when Dana International won the Eurovision Song Contest. Once we thought we knew where we were - naff competition, being held, hilariously, in Birmingham, loads of dodgy foreigners with silly haircuts and platform soles and ghastly songs that we could laugh at in an affectionate, ironic way. What happens? The gorgeous, curvy representative of a country we never thought was in Europe not only wins but turns out to be a bloke. We're on shifting sands, lads, and you don't win World Cups on shifting sands.
6. What the chattering classes and bien pensants of north London refuse to recognize is that it all started going wrong in the let-it-all-hang- out Sixties.
Once that sense of duty, self-discipline and respect for parents had given way to a wishy-washy, "The Kids are Alright" liberalism, then the next generation was doomed to a wasteland of beer, cigarettes and late- night trysts with bar-girls in lavatories. A direct cultural line stretches from Gazza's friend Five Bellies back to Germaine Greer posing for Suck magazine with her legs behind her ears.
7. When did hooliganism become fashionable, and route one football, and getting caught in possession of the ball? When, in fact, did everything start going wrong? You've got it. Thatcher - let's all blame Thatcher.
Miles Kington is on holidayReuse content