THOSE who maintain that sport and politics should not mix will have issued a collective groan this week at suggestions that the England football team should be pulled out of the World Cup finals in Russia in the summer.

As a protest at what appears to be brazen act of aggression by the Russian state on British soil, such a move would garner headlines around the world, though its value on a purely diplomatic basis would be dubious at best.

Many English football fans too, would quite reasonably see withdrawal as a punishment, depriving them of the opportunity to follow their country's footballers abroad, or simply from the comfort of their own front rooms.

And yet, it may just be a masterstroke.

After the tribulations on the pitches of France during Euro 2016, England fans will have emotionally regrouped and begun to hope against hope that the Gareth Southgate era will usher in success at international level.

As an Englishman, I have been guilty of this sort of self-delusion in the past. But no more.

Why? Take a look at the current England squad. I'm not going to waste space by naming names here, and I know the all-conquering Harry Kane is missing but, safe to say, it hardly inspires.

By the time you read this, England will have taken on the Netherlands, and will be preparing to face Italy at Wembley.

Positive results will send general expectations soaring, and will conveniently ignore the fact that both opponents failed to reach the finals in Russia.

Both countries are, it can be argued strongly, at possibly all-time low footballing ebbs.

But now there is a get-out clause. Why endure possible humiliation at the hands of Tunisia, Panama and Belgium?

Why give fans the opportunity to moan long and hard about how much money they've spent going to Russia to watch 'this rubbish'?

Let's be honest - and even allowing for injured players returning to the fold by June - the England squad has 'group stage exit' written all over it.

Best grasp the nettle and not bother going, to avoid mass heartbreak among fans on the streets of Nizhny Novgorod, and other Russian cities preparing to host them.