Pundits acknowledge that England’s Group H position isn’t great, and there is an almighty yet brief hoo-ha after any negative result, but nobody is treating the possibility of not qualifying for the World Cup seriously.
This lack of concern comes despite the catastrophic Euro 2008 preliminary process being just three campaigns old and two of their past four qualification bids under home-reared managers proving unsuccessful.
Admittedly, it would be wrong to enter a state of paralysed panic too. The Three Lions retain possession of their destiny and haven’t taken an irreparable wrong turn by sampling defeat yet.
By the same token, they haven’t achieved a win of any merit either, beating only San Marino (twice) and Moldova, while drawing with genuine threats Ukraine, Poland and Montenegro.
So though far from doomed, they are no better off than when Group H began a year ago and wield no advantage over their fellow Brazil hopefuls, certainly not enough of one to inspire faith at 2/5 to finish first.
One blip in any of their three substantial tests – a points spill against Moldova is inconceivable – is liable to sentence them to second. Two will see even a play-off place slide from sight.
Leaders Montenegro are a weighty 9/1 but faded from a position of strength in Euro 2012 qualifying and are hinting heavily at an encore. Poland are 28/1 with a considerable gap to bridge and tricky fixtures to manoeuvre.
Ukraine appear far more attractive than all three at 5/2. Their point deficit to England is softened by a tantalising run-in. They play the two minnows, three of their final four are at home and the away game is against San Marino.
They’ve steered past their bleak streak, drawing with Moldova and losing at home to Montenegro early on, only to recover with three straight victories, including 3-1 and 4-0 romps at Poland and Montenegro that hijacked all momentum.
Most crucially, they boast welcoming privileges for the potentially pivotal encounter with England, who they held at Wembley.
The Three Lions lost in Ukraine in an otherwise faultless World Cup 2010 pursuit, and only conquered the Euro 2012 co-hosts last summer when outplayed due to the officials missing the fact that a Marko Devic effort crossed the line.