England face a serious task this evening. Logically everything leads us to predict victory over Iceland, which is worrying for our nation’s committed legion of excuse-makers.
One fact, branded into the memories of everyone watching the Euros, is that Iceland has a population of 330,000.
The comparisons to illustrate the exiguousness of that figure have been endlessly dull.
The same number of citizens live in Coventry.
It’s 0.6 percent of the number of people in England.
It’s smaller than the combined population of Hartlepool and Sunderland.
Only 82,500 times the number of people I once saw sitting simultaneously on the wonky stool in the Museum Vaults ...
We get it. Iceland is small.
But more important is the quality of their squad. Only four of their 23 play in the top leagues of England, Germany, Italy or France.
Twelve play in Scandinavia for clubs that few people have heard of.
Their only two familiar names are Gylfi Sigurdsson of Swansea and Eidur Gudjohnsen, formerly of Barcelona and Chelsea, but now in his early seventies.
From major tournaments that they have actually qualified for, England have a long and proud record of returning home with a shining excuse.
The “Hand of God” was blamed in 1986 and not the fact – and a fact it is – that Argentina were a better side.
It was only bad penalties that cost us. It was just the sitter that Keegan missed.
Bobby Charlton shouldn’t have been taken off. The Germans had been practising. The crisps were too salty.
Our favourite among these idle fantasies tales is from 1998, when David Beckham was sent off for kicking an Argentinian.
People then were adamant that England would otherwise have won the World Cup.
Football supporters the world over will temporarily shed reason after a defeat, but this was something special.
England lost to Argentina, who then lost to the Netherlands, who then lost to Brazil, who were then hammered in the final by France, who later beat England 2-0 with minimal difficulty at Wembley the following February.
Rarely referred to is that England had already lost to Romania in a group match.
I barely remember the game, although it was presumably a complete injustice.
So obviously if only Beckham behaved himself the World Cup was in the bag.
Back to 2016, the problem with losing this evening is the unavailability of any excuse whatsoever.
England can’t waffle away defeat to a nation that has failed to qualify for any previous major tournament or the last two Eurovision Song Contests, which has no domestic league to speak of, which has only eight times as many people as Jarrow, a human populace below that of the number of Toby jugs in East Boldon... Hang on, we’ve done this bit.
Losing is therefore unthinkable, so England’s imposing excuse-making machine will be held in abeyance until the probable defeat to France on Sunday.
Managerial shortcomings are always a solid fallback in the excuse cache and we’ve already practised with Roy’s-tinkering-against-Slovakia-has-put-us-in-the-wrong-half-of-the-draw; as though England would have been invincible in the other half.
Other potential “reasons” for losing to France include French home advantage, the EU (we can still blame them for a while yet), the omissions of Townsend and Defoe, the one-hour time difference and garlic.
I fear the worst but there is always hope, so let’s use it.
As of this morning there are nine remaining fixtures in the championships. Surely there will be at least one more surprise.
It may be Iceland beating England. Or it could be England beating France.
Dream while you can. Just ease off on the excuses.