First, if you happen to support England, leave aside the gnashing of teeth and tearing of hair for a little while. True, if Russia beat Israel next month, you can feel free to make alternative plans during Euro 2008. Russia would then only need to return from Andorra with three points and it would all be over for Steve McClaren's troops (unless Croatia contrive to lose to both Macedonia and England, the latter by three goals).

The good news is that, on their own soil, Israel are far from pushovers. They have lost only one competitive home game in the past nine years. In that timespan, they have avoided home defeats against the likes of France, Spain and, of course, England.

That said, defeat in Moscow last Wednesday rocked English football to its foundations. Just how the country with the richest league in the world could fail to find a place among the top 16 in Europe is difficult to comprehend. And the implications are, frankly, disastrous.

The Football Association has invested heavily in everything from Wembley Stadium (the most expensive sporting venue in history, at an outrageous £778 million) to McClaren himself (a three-year deal worth nearly £9m). Some £8m in sponsorship contracts would be voided if they fail to qualify. And one study estimates that the loss to the English economy could amount to a staggering £1.25 billion.

That last figure is just an economist's estimate, take it for what it's worth. Yet even if it were a quarter of that, the impact would be severe. Nor would it please Uefa's organising committee. England are, after all, a big draw and their absence would impact on everything from ticket sales to the next round of TV rights negotiations.

Given all that, it was inevitable the media would look for a scapegoat. McClaren and Paul Robinson were two obvious choices. Perhaps too obvious.

Picking on McClaren is like shooting fish in a barrel. Too easy and somewhat cruel. This is a man who ploughed through some £70m in five seasons in club management, finishing in the Premiership top ten just once. What were people expecting?

The only reason he is the England manager now is that he was the kind of compromise candidate the FA's wise men could agree upon: neither the Alan Curbishley camp nor the Sam Allardyce camp could stomach the other's candidate. McClaren was everyone's second choice in a field of three.

And, given the extreme dearth of decent English managers, that was that.

Hindsight is 20/20 and it's easy to point out his mistakes. Yet,McClaren, perhaps more than any other England manager, allowed himself to be guided by the media and popular sentiment. Whether it was recalling David Beckham or dropping Frank Lampard.

McClaren did not make the kind of bold, imaginative choices that guys making £60,000 a week should be expected to make. He followed conventional wisdom at every turn. In that sense, his failure would be England's failure, as he mirrored the popular will at every opportunity.

As for Robinson, it's true that he is going through a terrible patch at club level and took his bad form to Moscow. But what were the alternatives?

David James, whom the pundits famously dubbed "Calamity James"? Or perhaps youngsters Robert Green or Scott Carson who, between them, have played exactly 45 minutes of international football?

Dropping Robinson would have exposed McClaren to even more criticism and, as we've seen, he's not the type of boss to go out on a limb.

The line emerging is the usual one regularly trotted out by ex-pros: England are a side packed with talented superstars up and down the pitch.

The hype portrays the England squad as the second coming of Brazil circa 1970. And therefore, if England fail to sweep away everything in their path, it must be the fault of the manager or whatever designated scapegoat is handy at the time.

This attitude is neither healthy nor logical. Look at the team. Micah Richards turned 19 less than four months ago, Joleon Lescott is not a left-back and was winning just his second cap, Gareth Barry was making just his fourth competitive start for England and Shaun Wright-Philips and Joe Cole are hardly week in, week out regulars at Chelsea.

This is not to say that, with players such as these, England should not be expected to qualify. Rather, perhaps the "world-class" label gets thrown around a little too easily these days when it comes to English footballers.

And maybe part of the problem is that, while England are undeniably pound-for-pound the best side in their qualifying group, the reality is that they are not so much better than everyone else that they can simply coast through with a second-rate manager and a goalkeeper who is enduring a very difficult patch.

Not unless the rest of the side pull together and lift the team.

Which is exactly what did not happen in Moscow.