As England edge toward the exit, Nick Harper ruefully reflects on what might have been...
Last night, the Diary watched enthralled as England swept to within touching distance of the last 16 of the 2014 World Cup on the back of a performance rarely produced by our nation's footballers. Swift, incisive, dictating the tempo and dominating possession, England cut through the Uruguayans at will, running up a cricket score with a performance of ruthless and uncharacteristic efficiency.
Sadly, of course, none of this actually happened.
The Diary was awoken from its dream by a terrible noise. A bloodcurdling scream: "And England will turn to Rickie Lambert," it cried.
What? What the fu...
"And England will turn to Rickie Lambert."
It was unmistakable timbre of Clive Tyldesley, and clearly it had all been a dream.
In a pool of cold sweat and misery, we remembered the living nightmare – Uruguay 2-1 England – and were sick in a bucket by the side of the bed.
We remembered that just when it looked like England might snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, bang, like a kick to the cobblers it was gone again. To use the old quote, with England it's not the despair. It's the hope we can't stand.
Even though none of us came into this World Cup expecting very much, we still had hope we could escape the group before going out on penalties to someone better than us. Even though we lost to the Italians, we still had hope that we'd turned a corner and embraced a brave new blueprint for the future – one where we could keep the ball for more than three passes, attack with intelligence and wouldn't just lump it long when we ran out of ideas.
It became clear within two minutes of the start last night that we couldn't do any of those things as well as Uruguay. Defeat was harsh, but largely self-inflicted. So two games, two defeats and absolutely no points. And yet even now we somehow still have hope.
Hope that England can still somehow scrape through the group.
Mathematically speaking, they still can. Mathematically speaking while clutching at straws, but it's still possible.
All we need is for Italy to beat Costa Rica tonight, then for Italy to beat Uruguay on Tuesday while England beat Costa Rica by a couple of goals. In other words, "We need Italy to do us a favour," as a sad-faced pitchside Andros Townsend said last night, far more in hope than expectation.
Still, by Tuesday of next week we expect all hope will have been finally snuffed out and we can get back to concentrating on admiring the competent countries left in this tournament – the teams who genuinely do know what they're doing.
In some ways, as much as it smarts, last night might have been for the best.
Day 8's other business
England may be as good as out but at least we're not Spain. Not words we expected to type at these finals, but the holders are definitely out and facing up to a far more painful fall. Yesterday, influential Madrid newspaper Marca reacted to Spain's exit by plastering a large shot of a dejected Andres Iniesta on its front page. The headline, in 78-point bold, read 'THE END', which translates as 'THE END'. The subhead, in a smaller font, reads 'Lamentable final de la epoch gloriosa de La Roja', and that pretty much sums it up.
The most notable thing to come out of the Spanish Inquisition so far though has been the search for a scapegoat. Remarkably, despite delivering a European Championship, a World Cup and the most successful era Spanish football has ever seen, it seems the coach Vicente del Bosque will fall on his sword first. "We will have to take a decision on what is best for Spanish football," said Del Bosque himself, pointing a finger in his own direction.
A team in grave danger of following Spain and England (probably) out at the group stage is Portugal, who were dealt a blow ahead of their crucial game with the USA by the ongoing circus that is Cristiano Ronaldo. According to online Spanish newspaper El Confidencial, Portuguese surgeon Jose Carlos Noronha told Ronaldo: "Let your knee rest, or your future is in danger". Yet despite having no formal medical training that we know of, Ronaldo dismissed the good doctor. "I’m the one that says whether I’m playing or not," he harrumphed, before hobbling off.
Elsewhere, in bust-up news, Greece went into last night's grinder against Japan amid talk of training ground fisticuffs. Defenders Yannis Maniatis and Giorgos Tzavellas had to be pulled apart by their captain Giorgos Karagounis, but defender Sokratis Papastathopoulos laughed it off as just minor, just trivia. "It was just minor, just trivia," he confirmed.
In a piece of vital non-World Cup news, Jose Mourinho has moved to clear up a subject on absolutely nobody's mind right now, announcing that he might one day consider managing England. As soon as England get home and Mr Hodgson departs? Apparently not. "Not now. No way. Too young, too strong, too virile, too, dare I say, hot," Jose only partly said. "Too much appetite to train every day, to play every game, to play three times a week, too much appetite still. But I like your country very, very much." Cool. Good. Thanks Jose.
And finally, a tale to lighten your mood on this shabby Friday morning. As you read this, Chilean-born bongo actress Marlen Doll (not her real name) is probably just about coming to the end – the sticky end – of a 16-hour sex marathon. Doll, it seems, promised to entertain select males for 16 hours of cheap, meaningless sex if Chile beat Spain, and she's been as good as her word. She had also previously promised an eight-hour sexathon if Chile beat Australia in the first game, which they did. If Chile end up reaching the final, she's going to need ointment.