The World Cup 2014 is suddenly upon us. Whilst the Champions League has seemingly overshadowed every other football competition on the planet, the sheer heritage and pomp of the Jules Rimet trophy has allowed it to maintain pole position amongst the tournaments.
And so the ceremony begins, the pouring over the groups, the fixture list and the potential squads, in an effort to try and map out just how the festival might pan out in reality. Permutations, permutations, permutations.
England find themselves in Group D, alongside Uruguay, Italy and Costa Rica. An obvious initial conclusion is that of the four combatants, it is England that will be most likely to suffer from the heat.
Geographical advantage is not to be overlooked. Once you look beyond the caricature of the dehydrated, pale skinned Brits, sunburnt by the time they reach the foot of the aeroplane stairs, there exists a grim reality that the English will not benefit from the heat in South America.
What fans of all sides want of course is “that” game, that epic match of the year that they will remember forever. This will of course, be final itself. No other tournament in the world produces finals like the World Cup. No other tournament in the world guarantees that final will be immense.
The ultimate game of the biggest tournament will be played in the ridiculously beautiful Rio De Janeiro, on the 7th of July.
The World Cup is so big, so all consuming, that every game is on the scale of a domestic final. There is little to no room for error, few second chances. To make the closing stages, sides must hit the ground running, there is no latitude for “growing into the competition.”
Roy Hodgson will be mindful of all of these matters (one hopes) when constructing his squad. His first game in will take place in Manaus on the 14th of June. The opponent will be Italy. This alone tells you all you need to know about the seriousness of Cup. There is no shallow end in which to become acclimatised.
So who to pick? Looking at the choice of goalkeepers doesn’t make for the most inspiring reading. Joe Hart is undoubtedly the stand-out man, despite his personal battle to retain the number one spot at Manchester City this season.
But beyond Hart, the alternatives are much of a muchness. Jack Butland made the squad for the 2012 Olympics, but the Stoke player has been on loan at Leeds, the very epitome of confusion in modern football. He has hardly excelled at Elland Road.
Fraser Forster is another contender. Whilst athletically intimidating, he unproven at the highest level. This may sound harsh, but having “Celtic’s goalie” listed as your occupation on your passport doesn’t quite set the world on fire, these days.
Looking at the back four, suddenly the options are broader, and more convincing. Leighton Baines, Tim Cahill, Kyle Walker, Ashley Cole, Luke Shaw and Phil Jagielka are all names synonymous with quality defending. Here, Hodgson is almost spoiled for choice.
The Everton pair in particular are in tremendous form and Everton, reinvigorated under Roberto Martinez look all set for at least a UEFA League qualifying spot this season.
England’s midfield is more of a conundrum. Some of the names that Roy would have had firmly underlined in his notebook last season no longer look like viable choices. Stewart Downing and Aaron Lennon are no longer of an international standard.
However there have been positives to be found. Andrew Johnson has drastically improved since moving to Sunderland and despite being 26 years old, it might just be the right time for him to hit the big stage. Elsewhere, Gerrard and Lallana to name but just two look like “must haves” when it comes to contrasting experience and youth.
Hodgson’s striker headache appears to have somewhat dissipated as the current season unfolded. After staring at a names such as Agbonlahor and Carroll, wondering how on earth it might all come together, there was the little matter of Liverpool’s extraordinary season.
Sterling and Sturridge have netted 29 goals between them, so far and have to be the first two players on the plane. If you also factor in that team mate Steven Gerrard has also contributed 13 goals to Brendan Rodgers’ haul, England are looking remarkably blessed offensively.
England may feel the heat, but this could be a competition where they may just cause others to sweat.