I hope Roy Hodgson settled himself into a comfy chair last night, sipped at a grown-up drink and allowed himself a contented little smile. In a period of time so short that he can't have even figured out where the FA keep the teabags, he has turned England into a profoundly average football team. That's more than anyone could have reasonably expected.
By rights, England should be entering a world of pain by now. A world of shame-faced 0-4 doinkings and flustered, angry press conferences. That’s what this summer should have been about. Hodgson has had barely any preparation time, he's inherited the unsolvable John Terry conundrum, he's facing a media and a public who will turn on him at the drop of three points and the bulk of his best players are either injured or suspended for kicking other footballers up the bottom. But did he falter? Did he waver? No. He created something grimly obdurate instead.
Instead of the chaos and ineptitude you might expect, England are now dull. They’re a team that you would only rush to watch if you hadn't slept in a very long time and you didn't have anything potent enough in the house to bring about the sweet embrace of unconsciousness. They are beige, they lack oomph and the only way that they will win Euro 2012 is if their opponents react to their football in the same way as neutral observers and thus lose their focus, slumping to the ground to pull out chunks of belly button fluff while gently humming show tunes.
If this seems unusually harsh, I must apologise. I really am genuinely impressed. England have the shape of a team that has trained together for far longer than a month. Those two banks of four, so beloved by Hodgson, are the only things that stand between England and utter humiliation and they held strong in the face of French attack last night. It was like Helm’s Deep, but we had the orcs and they had the elves. And why shouldn’t we capitalise on this? We are the nation that span Dunkirk into a military success and, by thunder, we can do the same to a 1-1 draw.
An English capitulation this summer, a repeat of the 1988 campaign that garnered three straight defeats, wouldn’t be just a short-term humiliation; it would start a long-term nightmare. Leaving Krakow empty-handed would thoroughly discredit Hodgson, turn the supporters and the rowdier sections of the press against him and hamper any efforts to rebuild the national side for the World Cup in 24 months.
England may yet still be beaten by Sweden and Ukraine in the coming days, but at least this hard-earned point against the group favourites is something to cling to for the future. We may not be any good, but we’re not bad either. If that’s not worth a comfy seat and a glass of the good stuff for Hodgson, I don’t know what is.