England's trudge towards their desert date meets tiniest of road bumps in routine group journey
England only drew, but Qatar is now only a short step away. Are we excited yet?
The qualifiers for next winter’s highly controversial FIFA World Cup finals project in the Middle East have not exactly screamed jeopardy. This has been, let’s face it, the cakeyest of cake-walks for England, even if they were denied another of those regulation wins we have come to expect.
There is not much need to quicken the pulse on this particular phase of a routine journey.
Ordinarily, a clash against the less-than-marvellous Magyars would have stirred the blood a little. But this is still a nation living on past glories - even more so than England.
Bobby Charlton in his pomp was a long time ago, but you have to go back even further for the glory years of Ferenc Puskas in the red, white and green of Hungary.
The visitors somehow held France and Germany to draws in the recently-concluded Euro 2020 championships, but this is a team easily put away in Budapest by England (4-0) and, even more embarrassingly, Albania.
Their Italian boss, Marco Rossi, admitted before kick-off to Capital Football reporter Alessandro Schiavone that he expected his team to lose Tuesday’s Wembley encounter. Presumably the 1-1 draw will have come as a pleasant surprise.
In a group involving a resurgent England under Gareth Southgate, this has not been a fair fight. Poland might have posed a bit of a challenge but it was not a particularly daunting one.
Nights like these usually feel a bit like a case of going through the motions. The fulfilling of obligations and loyal duties (in the case of fans).
They also seem to serve as a necessary rendezvous to honour recently departed heroes - usually played out to the infernal backdrop of that dull band in the stands and sometimes some badly behaved away fans taking its lead from some unenlightened right-wing despot or other.
All the boxes were ticked. There is nearly always somebody to commemorate, alas. This time it was two members of the 66 World Cup-winning squad, Jimmy Greaves and Roger Hunt.
And in the corner occupied by visiting supporters, a group of belligerent souls clashed with outnumbered police and stewards. It was behaviour that would no doubt gladden the hearts of the hardcore Carpathian Brigade back home who could not make the trip.
It was hard to avoid making comparisons with the immediacy, urgency and vibrancy of last week’s Nations League tournament in Italy when the quality of the football between teams of comparable strength at the top end of the game offered so much more in terms of thrills, spills and memorable goals.
It is probably a slightly unfair comparison, because that new UEFA competition has its ready-made conclusion involving four clubs at the top end of the football food-chain. But really some of these World Cup qualifiers are not much better than the friendlies the Nations League has replaced.
It does not seem to put off the supporters that many qualifiers are less than knife-edged. Another 70,000 turned up for this latest midweek fixture. But there is no disguising the routine and slightly humdrum nature of the affair.
The game ended in a draw but not even a defeat would have seriously derailed England’s march to next year’s gathering of nations in the desert.
Luke Shaw did his best to make it more interesting. He conceded a 24th minute penalty for a high-booted clearance which clipped Loic Nego. Roland Sallai put the spot-kick away.
John Stones levelled it on 37 minutes with a far-post tap-in following a Phil Foden free-kick.
And that was that. A dreary second half faded into obscurity, while we were left to daydream about those great games in Italy of a few days ago when you could not look away even for a minute. Such is the fate of these qualifiers for the Three Lions.