The big consolation after Italia 90 was supposed to be that England had the best young midfielder in the world to build their team around, and were playing a system that allowed them to compete with the very best.
What happened? They didn't even qualify for USA 94. Gascoigne headed down the road to self-destruction and England ended up with Keith Curle at left-back and Andy Sinton on the wing.
Before this tournament, some pundits talked about reaching the quarter-finals as being success for Sven-Goran Eriksson.
It was. But it could have been so much more.
To find yourselves in the last eight, with France, Argentina and Italy out, Germany poor and a potential semi-final against Senegal or Turkey, is a chance that does not present itself more than once in a lifetime.
Were Brazil that good? No. On the basis of that second-half performance England didn't deserve to go through.
But it was bitter irony indeed that just when Eriksson had us convinced that he was a lucky manager, England's good fortune ran out.
In all the scenarios that went through the mind before the game, no-one envisaged David Seaman, after 20 years as a professional, making a misjudgement that would have embarrassed him as a teenager.
Where do the fans go from here? Mostly back to work, not saying very much, heaving a few heavy sighs and shrugging the shoulders.
Four years ago the defeat by Argentina on penalties hurt. But England were never within touching distance of the World Cup final as they were in Japan.
Even the most hardened football fans, those used to shielding themselves from the pain of defeat, had allowed a few thoughts to wander through their minds.
What if England got to the final? Where would I watch it? What would the effect be on the nation? What would I tell my grandchildren?
And when Michael Owen picked off Lucio's mistake to score that goal, hopes took wing and soared high.
But it's gone again. Sven's boys probably played as well as we could have hoped they would, and the Argentina and Denmark games were fantastic.
So instead of surfing into the weekend on a wave of happiness, we slump into it feeling as much like celebrating as someone attending their own funeral.
Come on you South Koreans...