The nation watched in disbelief on Saturday night but one man retreated to the bathroom. Steve McClaren admitted yesterday that he found the tense final moments of Israel's victory over Russia so unbearable that he left the room and missed Omer Golan's winning goal that resurrects England's hopes of qualifying for Euro 2008.
McClaren's impromptu loo-break coincided with the prospects of Guus Hiddink's Russia team going down the pan to leave England needing just a point against Croatia on Wednesday to be in the draw for Euro 2008 on 2 December.
An extraordinary turnaround in the fortunes of the team and their manager may well continue this week when John Terry rejoins the squad in a last-ditch effort to be fit for the final qualifier.
Terry was among the England players who met up last night at their Hertfordshire hotel – his knee problem, according to sources in the camp, makes him unlikely to play but McClaren has not completely ruled him out. The return of the captain would complete the transformation of the mood around the England team after Saturday night's result – a game that even the usually undemonstrative McClaren admitted had left him emotional and unable to watch.
The England manager spent Saturday evening with his family at the team's hotel and watched the game with his three sons until the closing stages.
"I had actually slipped to the bathroom," McClaren said. "I couldn't watch the last 10 minutes. My boys had a big cheer and I thought it was actually the end of the game. So you can imagine my delight finding it wasn't over.
"I heard something before [Dmitri Sychev hitting the post] and then I came out and saw the replays. That's football. They are the little moments that go your way. We have had moments like that go against us – hitting the post, a penalty that wasn't a penalty – but they always seem to even themselves out and this time we got the break. I just cannot believe the whole nation sat through 95 minutes; I don't know how they could."
Come Wednesday night at Wembley, McClaren will address the entire squad in the dressing room before the game, including Terry, the injured Wayne Rooney, Michael Owen and Gary Neville, and the suspended Rio Ferdinand. After an occasionally chaotic qualification campaign, McClaren said that he wanted the whole squad around for one last push. "We need them at the game as well as in the dressing room, together with us, that would be grand," he said.
McClaren also said that he would remind the players of the circumstances of England's qualification for the 2002 World Cup when David Beckham's last-minute equaliser against Greece in the October of the previous year prevented Sven Goran Eriksson's team from having to get there via a play-off.
Croatia have already qualified and lost to Macedonia on Saturday night but their manager, Slaven Bilic, said yesterday that they wanted to finish top of Group E. "Croatia have qualified, they are a good team when they are relaxed," McClaren said. "I remember the Greece game, I was on the bench. We needed a draw, Greece had nothing to play for and that was another of those nerve-racking moments I will never forget.
"David Beckham's free-kick in the last kick of injury time won it and I hope it doesn't come to that. But that is how dangerous Croatia can be on Wednesday.
"It's the first thing I am going to stress to the players. Quite a few involved in the Greece game are still here [Beckham and Steven Gerrard]. The mood amongst the players, from messages we have received, is one of great determination. It is back in our hands. That's key. It was out of our hands. Now we have to finish it off."
The nature of McClaren's line-up is bound to change now that he only has one fit proven international striker in Peter Crouch. The smart money is on McClaren switching to a 4-3-3 or 4-5-1 formation, which allows him to pick Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and Gareth Barry in the centre. Joe Cole should start on the left and Beckham on the right, although there is a chance that McClaren may favour Shaun Wright-Phillips over the former captain.
Should Beckham be dropped it would be the first time in his 98 caps since he established himself in the team 10 years ago – when he was a substitute three times – that he has been reduced to the status of a squad player. McClaren initially dropped him altogether 15 months ago but, since he was recalled to the squad in May, Beckham has started every one of the four England games for which he has been fit.
"The key thing for me over the last three or four months is the competition for places, because of so many injuries, players have come in and done a job," McClaren said. "The likes of Gareth Barry and Shaun Wright-Phillips have created competition. We've picked players, David included, who want to be part of the squad. Once they're a part of it, it's up to performances whether they play or not."
McClaren called up the Tottenham striker Darren Bent yesterday having first looked at Gabriel Agbonlahor, who put in another impressive Under-21s performance on Friday. However, the Aston Villa striker is understood to have picked up a slight injury.
An interesting decision also awaits on Paul Robinson, whose place McClaren refused to guarantee, having given Scott Carson his chance against Austria on Friday night. In the recent past McClaren has given Robinson his backing early in international weeks to avoid any uncertainty about the goalkeeper's position, but yesterday he dismissed the question as "not for today".
Down to the wire England's great escapes
A qualification campaign which had floundered under Glenn Hoddle was revived by Kevin Keegan, but when England finished their matches Sweden had won the group and Poland needed a point to come second. The pair met in Stockholm and goals from Kennet Andersson and Henrik Larsson sent England into a play-off against Scotland. They won that to qualify.
World Cup 1982
England had been so inconsistent that their manager, Ron Greenwood, had to be talked out of resigning by his team. Results improved but qualification still looked daunting when Hungary clinched first place, leaving England level on points with Romania with a match left each. Then Romania were held in Switzerland, leaving England requiring a point at home to Hungary. England won.
World Cup 1962
Only three teams were in the qualifying groups and when England were paired with Portugal and Luxembourg it looked a two-way fight. Luxembourg turned the group upside down by beating Portugal 4-2. This left England needing a draw at home to Portugal in the final game. Burnley's John Connelly and Ray Pointer scored early to settle the tie.