Just reaching Brazil 2014 has been greeted with such glee, for once there really is no pressure to actually go and win it
England expects. Although perhaps not, in the circumstances, that much. For all the bravura attacking enthusiasm of England's two-legged qualification finale, there will be a sense of caution about exactly what might be in store in Brazil. If a last-ditch sense of vim at home to Montenegro and Poland was thrillingly productive, Roy Hodgson will have no illusions both about the moderate strength of Group H and also the likely effects of allowing one of the tournament favourites the same kind of space in midfield Poland enjoyed at times.
And yet for all that, there is a genuine sense of achievement. For England this is perhaps even a first of a kind, a raising of the bar when it comes to general jubilation at simply managing to qualify for a tournament. There are various reasons for this. International football remains a beautifully stark and unforgiving business, unwilling to be bought off or outsourced and answering only to good habits and a wider sense of sporting wellbeing.
The neglect of homegrown talent in the Premier League will remain a source of gathering anxiety. But England are going to Brazil. And this, for now, all feels very soothing.
Beyond this, there is administrative relief for the Football Association. Wembley itself tells this story well enough, with its high-spec industrial grey surfaces, its glass-walled hospitality hangars, a gloomily re-upholstered ancestral home that, without a World Cup team to house, might start to look little more than a £757m folly. The World Cup is the most visible and most energetically marketed sporting event in the calendar. England – literally – cannot afford not to be there.
And so they are. Let us for a moment celebrate that simple fact. It has been, if nothing else, a vigorously mob-handed undertaking. In the 15 months since Euro 2012 England have fielded 45 players, of whom 15 have been new caps, 10 of them playing just the once. So thank you, Ryan Bertrand, Steven Caulker, John Terry, Jonjo Shelvey and Ryan Shawcross, thank you all. In Hodgson's hands England have played 4–4–2, 4–4–1–1, 4–2–3–1 and 50 shades of often rather defensive grey in between. They have played long-ball, short-ball, grim defence and, at the last, exuberant attack en route to winning a distinctly underpowered Group H.
All of which poses, less emphatically than in more bullishly enacted qualifications, the question of what happens next. What, really, can we expect from this relentlessly soft-pedalled England team?
The initial prognosis is good. England have not lost a match in Brazil since 1976. On the downside, they've only played there twice. In World Cups in the Americas, England have won six, lost eight and drawn one, with a quarter-final at Mexico 86 their best showing. Not that any of that has much bearing on next summer, not least in the current climate of cross-continental internationalism.
In reality one of four teams will most likely win Brazil 2014. Spain and Germany will be favourites. Brazil are Brazil in Brazil. Argentina have the best players. Beyond this England arecurrently ranked a fairly reasonable 17th in the world, with no reason to conclude they will do any better than they have at their previous five tournaments, four of which ended in defeat at the quarter-finals, three times on penalties. If anything this England team is weaker than its recent predecessors, albeit perhapsshorn of some of the culture of entitlement.
The real problem is that each defeat has followed the same broader pattern, with the impression that England are simply playing the wrong style, the wrong system, the wrong game. English players have looked exhausted by tournament football, overwhelmed by any decent ball-playing team, red-faced, wheezing, troubled by pollen, playing a mud-bound December game in the heat of summer, and invariably passed to death over 14 days in June.
On the plus side they have a manager who travels well, as was evident at the Euros where Hodgson seemed energised by the experience rather than drained. Plus, of course, there is always the chance of improvement. Hodgson is not afraid of taking a punt on a player (before Andros Townsend he started Euro 2012 with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in midfield, a month on from his debut).
More promising is the prospect of continued tactical refinement. Six months before the illumination of Montenegro, England's manager was already talking about the kind of fast, athletic, hard-running passing football he wanted his team to play, a style based around relentless ball-carrying movement.
In Townsend, Theo Walcott, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Danny Welbeck and Daniel Sturridge there is something of a template. Here they come: Roy's Runners, a team where ball-carrying yardage is as important as passing stats. If there is less chance of a bolter coming from the pack to make the squad these days then Ross Barkley at least looks to fit the template, as does – a very long shot – Ravel Morrison if he could string some convincing games together.
England have friendlies against Germany and Australia pencilled in for November. After that there is a friendly date in March, before players join their national squads on 26 May. At the end of which getting out of their World Cup group looks like par.
A non-embarrassing quarter-final exit would be a minor triumph; a semi-final – let us, for a moment, dream – cause for week-long revelry in the streets. These are simply the facts now for an England team that is perhaps no worse than many that preceded it, but which travels with expectations aggressively scaled back: not so much a case of This Time, more an Anglicised-rendition of Don't Come Home Too Soon. England have nine months to plan and to refine a style of play only seen in glimpses so far. For now, though, , simply being there is enough.