Trust the English to be level-headed and rational in their response to qualifying for the 2014 World Cup. Well, not quite ...
Known for its population of the stiff upper-lipped and emotionally aloof, England’s green and pleasant land is also home to a gaggle of hacks who seemingly lead the world in their habit for hyperbole.
Ok, so the football team are perennial underachievers; glory on the pitch has not been in abundance. In fact, the side of the self-dubbed 'Home of football' has a track record for success that would give IBM a run for it’s money.
Having invented the damn thing the nation has since endured every competitor under the sun reshaping the product into a new form that betters the original: the Spanish, with their Apple-like aesthetic, the Germans, who produce consistent year-on-year success growth like Hewlett Packard, and then there’s Lenovo ... (add further PC-based metaphors here).
One solitary World Cup win, achieved on home soil and with a hefty slice of luck is all the silverware the ‘mighty’ Three Lions have secured in 63 years of trying.
But even with this title drought as a backdrop it is hard to rationalise how a 2-0 win over Poland by Roy Hodgson’s men can justify nearly every major paper in the land putting the story on its front page.
Typically it was The Sun that showed least restraint with a full-page spread of a jubilant Wayne Rooney and the kind of tongue-in-cheek headline on which the tabloid built its name. American government in shutdown? Syria in chaos? Earthquake in the Philippines? Not a bit of it.
Uppermost in the minds of the average Englander, rightly or wrongly, were dreams of the World Cup party in Rio to which an invite had just been secured. Clearly there are more serious issues in today’s world worthy of consideration but football has a great ability to provide light relief, even hope, to the masses and ever savvy red top editor knows it.
England aside, other nations also sealed their journey along the next mile of road that ultimately leads to the final in the Maracana.
Reigning champions Spain qualified in front of a tiny crowd by dispatching Georgia 2-0, Russia too with a draw against Azerbaijan. But it was Bosnia-Herzegovina’s progress for the first time as a nation that saw football show its inspirational qualities.
Identity is important to any community and sport can often bind peoples emotionally in ways that make governments go green with envy. For a population that endured the ravages of war only 20 years ago, it was a significant event that rightly led the news agenda back home.
The fourth goal in four games from an inspired Aleixs Sanchez saw Chile trump Ecuador to seal their second successful qualifying campaign in a row. And what of the amazing Hondurans? Drawing talents from a population of barely eight million, the Catrachos finished above Mexico (population 115m) in the CONCACAF hexagonal league, securing a memorable win at the iconic Azteca en route to automatic qualification.
If the coverage of the world’s press is anything to go by, let alone the value of broadcast rights for the sport, football has never been deemed more valuable. There is barely a country on the planet that remains untouched by the beautiful game’s allure, with millions enraptured by the drama and distraction it gives to everyday life.
Only the best teams will duel in Brazil and the frenzy created around each side’s quest for qualification has been on a grand scale. Will the 2014 event mean more to more people than ever before? It seems likely ...