Isn’t it amazing what one defeat can do?

From World Cup semi-finalists to Euro flops; from the darlings of the press to reminders of the bad old days… the latest chapter in the lives of Gareth Southgate and his England footballers.

That was the reaction after last Friday’s 2-1 defeat against the Czech Republic in Prague and ahead of last night’s game against Bulgaria in Sofia. Before that, England had not lost in 43 qualifying games.

The England manager was not looking for sympathy, which was just as well because there was not much of it about.

“The match was a proper test and we did not come through it,” said Southgate. “To be a top team with players with experience of winning the biggest matches, we’re still some way from that.”

England will qualify for the Euro 2020 finals – they may even win the thing as some of the games, including the final, are at Wembley, so if spreading a little sympathy is your thing then spare some for Scotland manager Steve Clarke.

When beating San Marino – the world’s lowest ranked side at 210th and a team everybody beats – is seen as some kind of benchmark then times are seriously tough.

Long gone are the days when Scotland could call up a Kenny Dalglish, a Denis Law or an Ally McCoist to stir things and Clarke has to call on character and resilience (his description following the 6-0 win) ahead of old-style Scottish talent.

The production line has been switched off for a long time and Scotland have since slipped to 52nd in the world rankings, by far the lowest of all the four home nations.

A sparse Hampden Park crowd endured torrential rain last Sunday to see Scotland end their four-game losing run and there was no shortage of optimism among the faithful. One rain-drenched fan waved a banner that announced: OUR TIME WILL COME.

And as a reminder of better days, another bore the legend ALEC MacLEOD’S TARTAN ARMY – a reference to the 1978 World Cup in Argentina (which also didn’t end too well).

Gareth Southgate may have his problems but they are nothing compared to those on the shoulders of the Scotland manager.

*Is rugby union the only game that offers more enjoyment to spectators when they don’t understand the rules?

The mysteries of the scrum (either collapsed or intact), the bewildering ruck, the advantage law that seems to last forever and an offside rule that would baffle even the most eagle-eyed VAR – none of this matters.

Especially when Japan are in action.

Players and supporters enjoy their rugby so much that they probably don’t even notice the referee or hear the countless blasts on the whistle.

Their enthusiasm is so infectious that normal rules don’t apply when the time comes for neutrals to decide who they are going to support.

From the opening day game against Russia to last Sunday’s non-stop thriller against Scotland, the hosts have been the entertainers of a memorable World Cup. And it’s largely because – to this untrained eye at least – they did it with a total disregard of structures and probably coaching manuals as well.

Japan are unlikely to win the Webb Ellis Trophy. They may not even get past their quarter-final against South Africa. The names of their players will soon be forgotten and the world order will be restored with one of the big guns mopping up the top prize. But for now they are the darlings of the game.

After their 28-21 defeat, Scotland coach Gregor Townsend said: “They play a fast game and creating quick balls at the ruck is probably the biggest part of their game. They have some players with real pace and have the confidence to try things.”

Simple isn’t it?

*Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge became the first man to run a sub two-hour marathon – one hour, 59 minutes 40.2 seconds for the 26.2 miles – but it is not going to be ratified as a world record because … well because of the conditions, including the shoes he was wearing and the fact that he was assisted by drop-in pacesetters and the circuit course.

Kipchoge likened it to Roger Bannister’s sub-four-minute mile 65 years ago.

Bannister, then a 25-year-old medical student, also had pacesetters in Chris Brasher and Chris Chataway and he ran on a circuit of cinders to break the seemingly unbeatable barrier in 3 minutes 59.4 seconds.

I don’t recall anybody kicking up a fuss or refusing to recognise it at the time. Since then, shoes and tracks have changed and another 16 seconds have been lopped off Bannister’s time thanks to advance in equipment and conditions.

Athletics is badly in need of a good news story right now, especially after the recent World Championships in Qatar, but you can rely on somebody to put a dampener on any celebrations – and that is probably by people who have never even run for a bus.