It’s no bad thing that inflated expectation is history

England's Wayne Rooney
England's Wayne Rooney
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When you don’t see the St George’s flag attached to every white van that cuts you up at a roundabout, you know that things have changed – and not necessarily for the worse.

For the first time in a generation – or should that be a golden generation – in the eyes of most football fans, England have got little or no chance at the forthcoming European Championships in Poland and Ukraine.

Expectations are about as low as a snake’s belly. Nobody is shouting from the rooftops that England can win the trophy.

And there aren’t too many brave souls who are discussing the swathes of world-class players that England have at their disposal.

At a push, of the existing squad, you would argue that Wayne Rooney and Ashley Cole have proved themselves in that bracket.

But Rooney was a shadow of himself at the 2010 World Cup and has not actually delivered in a tournament since he burst on to the scene as a precocious teenager in the 2004 European Championships.

Cole, meanwhile, is a left-back who shone for Chelsea in their Champions League triumph. But while he is among the best full-backs in Europe, he is unlikely to win a game for you from there.

Elsewhere, you look at Steven Gerrard – a player whose recent injury record has seen him become only an occasional starter for his country – or Joe Hart – a talented goalkeeper who has yet to play in a major tournament.

It’s hard to think of another time when expectation has been so low for an England side heading off to a tournament.

We haven’t even got an official song with David Baddiel and Frank Skinner revamping Three Lions for the 19th time.

Nor have we got the squad swaying and looking distinctly uncomfortable with their arms around each other as they all sing out of tune.

Those were the days when someone as blatantly uncool as Peter Beardsley was seen on Top of the Pops.

Although, to be fair, those were the days when we actually had Top of the Pops.

But ahead of this tournament, it’s almost as if everyone has written it off before we’ve even started, like a sharp dose of footballing reality has hit home.

And while it’s almost a bit defeatist, frankly, it’s no bad thing.

Cast your mind back to the Portugal tournament in 2004.

If you’d argued the case for Greece to carry off the trophy back then, you’d have been carted back off to Athens in a straitjacket.

The same goes for Denmark in 1992, or going even further back – Czechoslovakia in 1976.

Flying under the radar is where England should be.

Not among the feared sides, but an outsider who – if things go right for them and they get a bit of luck at the right time – could make a run at it.

Delusions of grandeur are, thankfully, a thing of the past.

England have shown they are capable of beating any team on their day, as they did with the supposedly all-conquering Spain back in November.

Yes, it was a friendly.

But the experts told us that it would be a defeat by at least three goals before England then beat them 1-0.

Football snobs – I’ll save that rant for another time – will moan that England sat back, battled, defended for their lives when they had to and nicked a goal for an unjust win against a superior side. So what?

The old England used to do that bulldog spirit thing and they did it pretty well.

So if the spirit and endeavour is there, Roy Hodgson can apply some of his trademark organisation to make us hard to beat.

And if an exciting, unknown quantity like Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is given his chance, you just never know what might happen.

The England team themselves probably know that they aren’t the best side in the competition.

But the best sides don’t always win.