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Roy Hodgson and England are letting their country down

This is not what a qualifying campaign should be about.

Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Five wins out of five chances. Goals for captain Wayne Rooney, marching on towards the record. Danny Welbeck, now the continent's top scorer, Raheem Sterling, still officially The Future, and Harry Kane, also The Future and increasingly The Present as well. A six-point gap at the top of the group, and qualification all but secured. Roy Hodgson's probably had worse days.

Indeed, if we need an illustration as to how smoothly England's road to France 2016 is proving, we only need to note that going into the Lithuania game, the nation's concern was whether England should drop a player who'd scored five times in four qualifiers for England in favor of somebody who's scored 30 in 44 games for Tottenham. Spoiled for choice doesn't cover it.

You might think this was a good thing, but you couldn't be more wrong. England's qualifying campaigns are supposed to be entertaining things, laced with chaos and uncertainty, one of Europe's most powerful footballing nations forever teetering on the edge of disaster before either (a) mustering something heroic at the necessary moment, (b) somehow finding a way to stumble over the line despite their best efforts, or (c) falling flat on their collective face, much to the amusement of everybody else.

We're talking about that doughty 0-0 draw with Italy that secured passage to France 1998. Or that deflating 2-1 aggregate victory over Scotland in the Euro 2000 playoffs, passage secured with a miserable 1-0 loss at home to their oldest rivals. Or Jan Tomaszewski clowning around, denying England a place at the 1974 World Cup and ending Alf Ramsey's career.

Perhaps the high point of modern English qualifying excitement came in the long, tortuous road to the 2002 World Cup, which sort of covered all three bases. First the tearful resignation of Kevin Keegan following the home defeat to Germany, then the arrival of Sven-Goran Eriksson and giddy revenge in Munich, all culminating in that David Beckham free-kick to snatch a draw against Greece, a brilliant moment masking a bobbins performance.

That was then, and it was pretty much the high point of England's qualifying adventures. Yes, Eriksson contrived to lose to Northern Ireland and draw with Macedonia, but most of that time was spent laboring against tournament hangovers and all that off-field stuff: the ceaseless interrogations of his personality, his personal life, his tactical decisions and, if we're being honest, his foreignness. Steve McClaren did his best, expertly bringing the whole campaign down to the final game and then demonstrating his tactical acumen by deploying an umbrella as a tabloid lightning rod. But he went too hard, and got himself sacked.

But since then, England have settled into a bit of a groove between tournaments. Fabio Capello was the same as Eriksson, except better on the pitch -- his England sides qualified by six clear points in 2010 and 2012 -- and significantly less salacious off it, though no less foreignly foreign. And England's path to Brazil 2014 was also relatively smooth: though Roy Hodgson's England were frequently dull, they ended up qualifying unbeaten and even looked pretty exciting against Poland. And now this, the looming prospect of qualifying perfection. No danger, no doom, and so consequently no glorious comeback. Nothing to really get your teeth into.

Admittedly, much of the peril of European qualification has been drained away by the expansion of the tournament to 24 teams. But other big teams have risen to the challenge: the Netherlands are flailing away in the middle of Group A; Belgium are sitting behind Israel and Wales; Germany are level on points with Scotland; Spain are three points behind Slovakia. These nations are all guaranteed to outperform England at the tournament proper -- except maybe the Dutch, who are looking pretty horrible -- but they've also recognized that their public needs excitement in between times. Football is an entertainment business, and rollercoasters are more fun than elevators.

By this stage, we're all working on the assumption that England, once they reach any given major tournament, are going to depart that same tournament in fairly short order. As such, what excitement there is to be gained from the national team has to come in qualification. By reaching for, and attaining, this current level of remorseless competence, Hodgson and his team are effectively denying the nation the chance to truly experience qualification as a proper footballing experience, one shot through with terror and anger and farce.

Sure, attendances at Wembley might be doing exceptionally well. And okay, there might just be the suggestion that a young, quick, likeable England is starting to come together. But that's not what England are about. That's not what they're for. They're about an inexplicable 1-0 loss at home to a team that has never scored at Wembley before, a disappointing draw away to the only other decent side in the group, and coming to the end of qualification knowing they need six points from two tricky games, at least one of which will take place on a pitch that wouldn't look out of place in the depths of a League Two winter.

These are dark times for England. We can only hope that Hodgson recognizes this before it's too late, contrives to make a proper mess of the friendly against Italy on Tuesday, and goes from there. Come on, Roy. Cock it all up, just a little bit. For the people.