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How much should England really expect against the USA?

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Ben Sutherland Ben Sutherland | 12:25 UK time, Saturday, 12 June 2010

englandflag.jpgEvery four years - or in fact every two, given it happens with the European Championships too - pretty much every media publication in the country will use the headline "England expects" somewhere in their copy.

It's a nice phrase - it certainly worked pretty well for Admiral Horatio Nelson some 185 years ago - but it is rarely a reflection of the truth. And it certainly shouldn't be applied to the first match of the Three Lions at a major tournament - the 2010 World Cup version of which is today against the USA.

Because if anything, history tells us that the best England fans should expect in their first game is a draw.

In the years I've been watching football - Mexico 1986 being the first World Cup I can remember - England have started 10 tournaments. In that time, they've won just two opening games, against Tunisia at France '98 and Paraguay in Germany four years ago - and that second was a lucky result, courtesy of an own goal.

The rest reads like the most disappointing series of openings since the Star Wars prequels. Defeat to Portugal at Mexico '86. Defeat to the Irish Republic in Euro '88. Then a series of draws - with the Irish Republic again at Italia '90, with Denmark at Euro '92, and with Switzerland at Euro '96 - that last on home turf at Wembley.

Then - finally - a win, against Tunisia at France '98, before another dismal run: defeats to Portugal and France sandwiching a draw with Sweden in Japan.

Of course, in some of those tournaments England went on to improve - in some cases, immensely so - but there are 30-year-old Citroen 2CVs that start better.

None of this, of course, has stopped the media hype here in England. With the backdrop of the ongoing - and serious - rows between BP and Barack Obama's administration over the Louisiana oil spill, there is a fair amount of America-baiting in the English press today.

Indeed, one national newspaper is even running a TV campaign in England where they put another gold star above the England badge.

I was debating this with my colleague Dave Lee, who is part of the BBC Sport website team. Dave is a little younger than I am, and is full of optimism for today's game against the United States.

When I pointed out England's rather dismal record in these matches, his response was,

"I'm the kind of fan who straps a flag to his back and prays."

Many fans will feel exactly the same - there are flags everywhere you look in London - but I find watching England is not even fun any more, more 90 minutes of controlling the nervous tension.

Of course, in a few hours' time we'll know who's been proved right. But I - and World Cup Have Your Say in general - would be interested to know what the situation is where you are.

Does the press in your country (which can include England!) put too much pressure on the national team? Or is stirring up patriotic fervour all part of the fun of the World Cup?

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