And here we go again.
Optimism and excitement to be followed by recriminations and reprisals within a fortnight, for English football fans at least.
After a weekend of woe for England’s rugby union and cricket teams, us patriotic sports fans really do need cheering up by the World Cup. Wouldn’t it be lovely if Tunisia and Panama are soundly thrashed and Belgium are also beaten to present England with an easy draw in the round of 16?
It would, but it won’t happen. If anything I am suffering from far more foreboding thoughts than usual, and not just because the sight of Vladimir Putin revelling in the spotlight will be as nauseous as walking ego Gary Lineker’s shameless attempts to shoehorn his own international career highlights into his broadcasts and social media output for the next month.
It’s been a weird build-up to the greatest competition of them all. Even the cynics in the national media have been seduced by Gareth Southgate’s intelligence to the point that, bizarrely, some believe a 23-player press conference is a sign of good times ahead on the pitch.
It’s all rather baffled me. Southgate has no track record as a manager and he’s picked duds like Danny Welbeck and Fabian Delph, while Germany have been able to leave out Leroy Sane. Even a manager who managed to get Middlesbrough relegated can qualify for a World Cup. It’s difficult not to these days. Winning when getting there has caught out better managers than Southgate.
And what are those expecting a strong run in the competition actually seeing? All the qualifying games and recent friendlies have told me is that England have no world-class goalkeeper (indeed Jordan Pickford appears to be selected on the basis of his passing rather than shot-stopping skills), no creative quality in midfield and an over-reliance on Harry Kane for goals.
Actually recent England games have also shown what a fine player Marcus Rashford would be if he could escape the negative clutches of Jose Mourinho, but that quality probably won’t show itself in Russia.
I do believe a European team will win the World Cup, but it won’t be the one I support. I’d love it to be Belgium as I find Roberto Martinez an engaging character, but it’s more likely as usual to be Spain or Germany.
I’d enjoy seeing Eden Hazard strut his stuff, but I have a feeling he will disappear when the going gets tough, a bit like Mesut Ozil when Arsenal have a hard fixture. France have a chance if they don’t start with Paul Pogba in the matches that matter.
I wouldn’t begrudge Argentina coming out on top as the greatest player I’ve ever seen Lionel Messi deserves to have a World Cup on his CV, but his team are way off Brazil’s standard.
Spain to win it for me, 2-1 over Brazil in the final with Germany and France reaching the semi-finals. England will bow out at the last 16 stage, probably on penalties after a boring 0-0 draw.
Just don’t shoot the messenger.