If superstition is the last refuge of the desperate, consider England at lucky pants stage. Of course, as Fabio Capello's men head into their final World Cup group game against Slovenia, there will be those who prefer to assess their chances of progressing in the tournament via an unsparing examination of the recent form book. Masochists are very welcome to that approach.
For people with one last push of mad optimism in them, however, these are challenging hours. In ancient times, there would have been some official haruspex charged with picking over the entrails of a sacrificial offering ahead of any important occasion. With the alimentary canal plus assorted sweetbreads spread before him, the seer in question would rake authoritatively through the organs, and from the omens divine whether it would be a good idea to invade the Parthian empire or play Steven Gerrard behind Wayne Rooney.
Unfortunately, England lacks an appointed prophet, while the most notable recent sacrifice has been John Terry's dignity (only a very small altar was required). Yet the omens are exceptionally good – just as long as you studiously ignore the bad ones, which is really the only way to play the omen game.
It's not just that England have never lost under a Tory-Lib Dem coalition government – though indeed they've never won under one. No, take England's kit, which for only the fifth time in their history will be all red – a combination in which they are undefeated. As far as vintage goes, the average age of the current squad is 27 – just as it was in 1966. And England reached the semi-finals unbeaten in 1990, despite drawing 1-1 and 0-0 in their first two group games. It's almost as if the glorious path to Wayne Rooney blubbing over his second yellow card is written in the stars.
TV rights are another area which could scarcely augur better for England, what with the game being shown on the BBC rather than ITV. Obviously, this means that viewers will be able to see any England goals that go in, as opposed to being wowed by the road handling of the new Hyundai – but there's more. Statistics also reveal that since 1982, when World Cup games began being divided between the BBC and ITV, the Beeb have televised almost twice as many winning England games as ITV. Another encouraging element will be the lack of Clive Tyldesley, with England having drawn or lost six of their eight World Cup matches on which the ITV man has commented. As if his absence were not silver lining enough.
Tomorrow's referee is also a positive, with England having won all of their past three games officiated by Wolfgang Stark. Admittedly, John Terry described the gentleman as "disrespectful" to him after Chelsea's Champions League exit in March – but which of us is respecting Terry's pronouncements at present?
Naturally, there is the odd caveat. England have failed to win any of their last five first round matches against a fellow European nation – indeed, they haven't won their final group game since 1998 – and Rooney hasn't scored in 10 hours of international football.
But that's quite enough from the pessimists. On the night before the Romans were completely destroyed at the Battle of Cannae, there was probably some diseased pancreas suggesting that one underestimated Hannibal at one's peril. The important thing is that someone had the vision to dismiss it as an outlier.
This is comment. GNM does not necessarily support the views expressed.