Even the most die-hard European golf fans are not exactly over-flowing with confidence at the prospect of Mark James carrying the Ryder Cup trophy on to the Concorde flight due to bring his team home from America next Sunday evening. Indeed, such is the pessimistic tone of the continent's golfing media that it would hardly seem worth the Europeans bothering to turn up in Boston this week. A gentle tea party it will not be. Never mind actually retaining the prized Cup. Avoiding a humiliating mauling at the hands of the multi-millionaire American side would appear to be the best they can hope for. On the surface, it's difficult to disagree with that assessment. Some might even say it's foolhardy to do so. Despite the unseemly wrangles over the rights of the American players to receive appearance fees, all statistical evidence points to an overwhelming triumph for Ben Crenshaw's team. In public, European captain James and his 12 brave men are remaining upbeat. But deep down they, too, know that they will be up against it when they step into the lion's den that is The Country Club in Brookline on Friday. But hold on a minute. Have we not heard all this before? Anyone who's followed the recent history of golf's most hyped event will know that rubbishing and writing off the European team has become an integral part of the build-up to the biennial Ryder Cup. It happened two years ago at Valderrama - and two years before that at Oak Hill. Europe won on both occasions. It's hard to remember the last time that Europe did not go into the contest as underdogs. The reality, however, is that the Americans have managed to win outright just twice in the past seven encounters, dating back to 1985. And both of those successes were by narrow margins - one point in 1991 and two points in 1993. Fortunately, the Ryder Cup rarely produces predictable outcomes. Remember the Ryder Cups of 1995 and 1997 when much-maligned European teams defied the odds to emerge victorious. So, can they do it again and complete what would have to rank as one of the 20th century's most unlikely sporting hat-tricks? Man-for-man it's clear that the 1999 Americans, like so many of their vanquished predecessors, hold all the aces. Between them the US team have amassed 11 Major titles - Payne Stewart (three), Tiger Woods and Mark O'Meara (two each) and Tom Lehman, Justin Leonard, Davis Love and Hal Sutton (one apiece). Compare that with the paltry tally of three for the Europeans - Jose-Maria Olazabal (two) and Scotsman Paul Lawrie, who surprised even himself by capturing this year's British Open at Carnoustie. Consider also that James' side are arguably the most inexperienced of any European team, with no fewer than seven rookies. Only Olazabal and Colin Montgomerie have appeared in more than one Ryder Cup. To be sure, there will be a starkly unfamiliar ring about the European team. Veteran heroes Nick Faldo, Bernhard Langer and Ian Woosnam - Ryder Cup linchpins for the best part of two decades - will all be conspicuous by their absence, having been overlooked by James for the wild-card spots that went to Jesper Parnevik and Andrew Coltart. Missing, too, will be Seve Ballesteros, that scourge of the Americans who so often and for so long has been Europe's inspiration and driving force. Given the immense influence on the Ryder Cup of the Spaniard, it's appropriate that the most obvious crumbs of comfort for the 1999 Europeans are provided by his teenage compatriot Sergio Garcia. It's a lot to ask of a 19-year-old, but if 'El Nino' is able to reproduce the thrillingly outrageous stroke-making that won him the support of the American galleries, if not the title, at last month's US PGA Championship anything could be possible. But even if he does, this time Europe may well be found wanting. TEAMS United States: David Duval, Jim Furyk, Tom Lehman, Justin Leonard, Davis Love, Jeff Maggert, Phil Mickelson, Mark O'Meara, Steve Pate, Payne Stewart, Hal Sutton, Tiger Woods. Non-playing captain: Ben Crenshaw. Europe: Darren Clarke, Andrew Coltart, Sergio Garcia, Padraig Harrington, Miguel Jimenez, Paul Lawrie, Colin Montgomerie, Jose-Maria Olazabal, Jesper Parnevik, Jarmo Sandelin, Jean Van de Velde, Lee Westwood. Non-playing captain: Mark James.