However, as far as some of the players are concerned, the importance of England’s clash against Poland tonight can’t be overstated, particularly should the country wake up to a play-off induced post-mortem tomorrow morning.
While England could still reach Brazil even if they were to take a play-off-shaped diversion, the process of rejuvenation Roy Hodgson’s squad must undergo after the World Cup in Brazil would be likely to start earlier than the former Fulham manager might expect.
The omens aren’t good. For many players, qualifying campaigns ending in heart-breaks have often spelt the end of their careers with the national side.
It happened in 2007, when Steve McClaren was unceremoniously fired after losing against Croatia in the Wembley rain, as Scott Carson endured a debut to forget, his howler allowing Niko Kranjcar’s shot from long range to bobble over the line.
Carson would only add two more caps to his tally, while Sol Campbell’s England career ended that night and Peter Crouch, Shaun Wright-Phillips, Wayne Bridge and Joe Cole would fail to add more than the odd cap here and there after the debacle against Croatia.
Things didn’t go much better for five of the players involved in England’s 2-0 defeat in Holland in 1993, which all but costed Graham Taylor’s men a spot at the 1994 World Cup.
None among Lee Sharpe, Carlton Palmer, Tony Dorigo, Paul Parker and Andy Sinton managed to add more than one cap after their defeat at the hands of Ronald Koeman & Co. was captured on celluloid in a Channel 4 documentary.
With Rio Ferdinand and John Terry having already decided – albeit for different reasons – to quit international football, Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard are expected to follow suit after the World Cup.
Having been the main men for their respective clubs for over a decade, Lampard and Gerrard are the last members of the so called “Golden Generation”, whose golden layer was so shiny that it only succeeded in blinding England into failure.
Would Lampard and Gerrard be willing to go through the play-off doldrums to secure one last shot at international glory?
Probably, but they’re also likely to wave goodbye to the national team in the summer and they could be imitated by Michael Carrick who, despite being arguably the best English midfielder over the last two seasons, has failed to nail down a starting spot in Hodgson’s team.
A pillar for England over the last decade, Ashley Cole is expected to continue to Euro 2016 but Leighton Baines, four years his junior, could soon become the first choice at left-back for the national side, while James Milner’s presence could be under threat if England were to replace Hodgson with a manager less keen on the pragmatism the Manchester City midfielder embodies.
Daniel Sturridge, Wayne Rooney and Danny Welbeck will be the certainties upon which England’s attack will rely in the future as much as they have done in recent times, while Rickie Lambert’s fairytale could soon come to an end, as could Jermain Defoe’s England career.
Both Andy Carroll and Ashley Young remain a dilemma, while Jack Wilshere, Tom Cleverley, Andros Townsend and Ross Barkley should be England’s first choices in midfield.
Joe Hart, Phil Jagielka, Chris Smalling, Gary Cahill and Phil Jones are young enough to look to the future with optimism but, as history shows, failure in an England shirt can be irreversible.