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Draw your own conclusions

I suppose we shouldn't be surprised that many people who ought to know better got a bit carried away on Friday night.

To listen to some of the television pundits in England, Frank Lampard, Wayne Rooney and co. are already through to the semi-finals. No need to worry that they came in second to Sweden in their group four years ago; or for that matter, that they've gone thirty seven years without beating Sven's mother country at football.

I'll concede to being a bit jealous of England. After all, we Scots are on the outside looking in for the second World Cup on the trot. But in case you think I'm picking on my mates south of the Hadrian's Wall, the English aren't the only ones getting swept away on a tide of hysteria.

In the USA, to give one example, two former national team players told the watching millions they believe the Americans are contenders to win the World Cup this time, while Germany and France are mere 'pretenders.' This, by the way, was before the draw had even taken place.

Don't get me wrong. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, no matter how much I or anyone else might disagree.

However, have the chest beaters, irrespective of their nationality, not heard of the old saying about pride coming before a fall?

I'll grant you, I and all Scots of a certain age, have been poisoned by that miserable Argentina '78 experience. Back then, Scotland were the solitary British standard bearers at the finals, and had a team to match some of the best in the world - on paper!

As a youngster, I was convinced we were destined to 'win medals' as our then manager, the late Ally MacLeod put it. Everyone who was anything, it seemed, had tipped Scotland for greatness. We were going to win the World Cup. Even Pele himself was talking about how wonderful a Brazil v Scotland final would be.

Once in Argentina, everything fell apart. A defeat by Peru was followed by a dire 1-1 draw with Iran. Only in the final group match against Holland, a game that finished 3-2 in Scotland's favour was respectability restored.

But the damage was done, and the scars remain to this day.

Not since 1978 have we deigned to make positive prognostications about any sporting or political event. Not even when gifted players such as Strachan, Dalglish and Souness were leading the national team in the Eighties and the late Jock Stein was in charge of plotting every move. We learned our lesson in South America, and it's one we will carry with us for good.

The Scottish example isn't the only one of course.

Remember Colombia in 1994? They were supposed to be the new Brazil. The curly mopped Valderrama was going to conquer all before him. The Colombians foundered that year in the USA.

Portugal were the dark horses in the Far East four years ago, only to perform in a manner suggesting they had read too many of their own media releases.

Thankfully, managers these days are far more tuned in than MacLeod twenty seven years ago, or the modern-day cheerleaders on the box. Sven-Goran Eriksson, for example, wouldn't be caught dead trying to talk about who England might play in the quarter-finals. Certainly not when the question is posed in December, 2005!

Bruce Arena, the coach of the United States national side was our guest from Leipzig on Friday's edition of ESPNSoccernet Press Pass. I'm sure he was a mild disappointment to the bombastic fringe amongst American followers who profess to believe that the FIFA World Cup, or at worst a semi-final appearance, has the USA's name written on it in 2006.

No, the articulate Arena made it clear he's not interested in vapid talk about the USA getting to the last eight, not at this early stage of the proceedings. Instead he pointed out just how much of an achievement it is to have qualified for the World Cup finals, and went on to argue that it takes a special effort even to get out of your group.

I'm inclined to think most fans in the US, and elsewhere, have been similarly imbued with a healthy dose of realism.

The Australians seem to me to embody the best outlook. They know just how hard it is to get an invitation to the biggest sporting party on earth. Now that they've made it again after thirty two years, they're going to enjoy it above all else, rather than make rash predictions about where they'll finish.

By all means cheer on your country, wherever you hail from. But keep your goals modest in public, and avoid hyperbole.

You might not think so, but I'm actually looking out for you. Trust me on this one. I'm Scottish! I don't want you to have to endure your own '78.