Deserved defeat by the United States in Foxborough on Wednesday made utter nonsense of all the talk about winning three on the bounce in the autumn to qualify for the World Cup. If England cannot cope with the novices of the international game, what chance do they stand against the Netherlands?
Graham Taylor is trotting out the same, lame excuses we heard after the capitulation in Norway. But for the American goalkeeper, England would have won 4-2, instead of losing 2-0.
'This is a battle for me personally,' he said. 'I've been taught to battle for everything in life. When you're in trouble you don't look around and you don't make excuses. You get in there and work, son. That's what my mum and dad told me and it has stood me in good stead.
'There will be a turning point. Something will happen. I don't know what, and I don't know when, but something will happen.'
Desperate stuff from the Mr Micawber of international management. His shambles of a team lost again, not because of ill fortune but because they cannot defend, pass the ball, or score goals. This latest embarrassment - England's worst for 40-odd years - is such that the manager should resign. He insists that he will not, so he should be sacked - possibly not now, but certainly at the end of the tournament, in 10 days' time.
The players have ceased to respond to his blandishments, performing without pride, passion or proficiency. The man should go. Terry Venables, to name but one, could only do better.
In the suitably Stygian surroundings of the Foxboro Stadium, England played like a bunch of ill-assorted strangers. The lack of cohesive teamwork was unsurprising, given all the chopping and changing of the past few weeks. The dearth of spirit, enterprise, or even basic skill was unforgiveable. This was much worse than 1950, when Walter Winterbottom's England lost 1-0 to the Americans in Belo Horizonte. That was a freak - a collective off-day. This was England playing just about as well as they knew how, and losing to the makeweights of the international game.
Let's have it right. The United States had won just one of 15 previous internationals, and that against Saudi Arabia. Recently they have lost to Japan (3-1) and Honduras (4-1).
Taylor will not have it, of course. He prefers to talk of soldiering on, but his shell-shocked rabble are on the point of running up the white flag. Confused by too many changes, both in tactics and personnel, they have lost confidence in the leadership and are playing accordingly.
What is it today: 4-4-2, 4-3-3 or 3-4- 1-2? Do we get a sweeper? Are we allowed a drink? Whatever happens, it is always the players who are in the wrong. They stop out too late, or they push out too late. Whatever happened to managerial responsibility and the buck stops here?
Little more than a month ago, John Barnes was relegated to a 'bits and pieces' role in midfield, and advised to miss this trip to work on improving his fitness, yet here he is, playing - or rather appearing - as one of the two main attackers. Paul Ince is berated as a headless chicken and a warmonger in Poland, has his knuckles rapped for a nightclub incident at home and is promptly made captain. Inconsistency upon inconsistency.
The devil's advocate tells us that Taylor's team were below strength on Wednesday, lacking Gascoigne, David Platt and Tony Adams, but Gascoigne and Platt hardly pulled up any Norwegian wood last week, and heaven help us if Adams is essential to England's well-being.
The truth is that a decent club side could beat the Americans - FC Zurich came close in February - but England are not that good, lacking the teamwork which comes only with confidence, in men and method.
The United States were indebted to their goalkeeper, Tony Meola, for an outstanding performance, but it was stretching the point to suggest, as Taylor did, that they were lucky to win. They had the cleverest, most inventive player on the field in Roy Wegerle, whose insidious infiltrations embarrassed England's plodding defenders, and they could easily have scored at least two more.
True, Ian Wright might have had a couple after substituting for the delicate Les Ferdinand, but what's new? For England, Wright continues to get it all wrong.
The predator of the Premier League does not look up to it at international level, but he is by no means alone in that. The same could be said of at least half this team - Dixon, Dorigo, Batty, Sharpe, Clough, Ferdinand. Even the new captain, Ince, suffered by comparison with Wednesday's modest opposition.
Are there better players around? Not too many, although Paul Merson, Nigel Winterburn and Earl Barrett are worth a try. The real fault, though, lies with the director rather than the chorus line. The right man could get much more from the same cast.
Taylor, much given to quoting the words of his favourite pop songs, is both moody and blue these days, so why not Go Now? His resignation at the end of this tour might enable a successor to bodge up the damage well enough to get England to the World Cup. Taylor's dummies won't do it. Tel's Belles just might.
Germany recovered from a 3-0 half- time deficit to draw 3-3 with Brazil in the US Cup in Washington last night. Thomas Helmer, with an own goal, a penalty from Careca and a strike by Luisinho gave Brazil their lead, the world champions replying with two goals from Jurgen Klinsmann - his second a last-minute equaliser - and one from Andreas Moller.
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