With the 2014 World Cup finals just 15 months away and a round of hugely important qualifiers set to take place over the next 10 days, we at Bleacher Report are shifting our focus back towards the international game to analyse which nations could be considered genuine challengers for next summer’s global event.
And here we are examining the credentials of Roy Hodgson’s England, a country that have only ever been crowned world champions the one occasion, on home soil in 1966, but who, if they manage to make it safely out of a tricky looking Group H, will travel to Brazil with a quiet confidence that they can become the first-ever team from Europe to win the competition in South America for the following reasons…
Swiss rollover: Hodgson during his time in charge of Switzerland, who rose to the heady heights of third in the Fifa rankings under his management
It is well known that England boss Roy Hodgson has enjoyed a peripatetic career in top-level international management, having coached the likes of Switzerland, United Arab Emirates and Finland before taking on the biggest role of his career with the country of his birth last year.
And it is that vital experience gained from coaching in all corners of the globe, which also includes various stints in club management around Europe, that could prove vital come next summer as he attempts to guide England through the choppy waters of the World Cup finals.
However, a quick glance at the Croydon-born coach’s managerial CV will show that not only has Roy been there, done it and got the World Cup T-shirt before, but that when it comes to successfully navigating a team through the pitfalls of a knockout competition, Hodgson also has previous.
With the former, Hodgson guided unfancied Switzerland safely through to the 1994 World Cup in the USA, where they were widely expected to exit before the first knockout round having been drawn in a tough-looking group that contained the likes of Romania, who would go on to make it all the way to the semifinals, the US, with no host nation having ever previously exited the competition at the group stage and one of the pre-tournament favourites, Colombia.
But Hodgson’s Swiss team stunned the watching world by thrashing Romania 4-1 as they finished second in the group, before eventually being eliminated by Spain in the first knockout round.
Not only that, but Hodgson also took Inter Milan all the way to the final of the 1997 Uefa Cup, a trick he then repeated by guiding minnows Fulham through to the 2010 Europa League (via BBC Sport), the.first major European final in the club's history.
So, underestimating Hodgson’s ability to take an underdog to the final of a cup competition would be foolish given his past track record in this regard, although now he needs to go that one step further in Rio next summer …
South Africa 2010: Capello can only look on in despair after England were humbled 4-1 by Germany
Let’s face it, if England do manage to qualify for next year’s World Cup in Brazil, they will not be, at least outside of the UK that is, one of the pre-tournament favourites for the competition.
History shows that is when England tend to perform best, when there are no grandiose expectations on their shoulders with which to weigh them down.
The golden rule with England is, if they are overhyped and overconfident, then expect failure, however, if there is doom and gloom surrounding the national team, expect success, albeit relative to expectations.
Think 1988, 1992, 1998, 2006 and 2010 for the former and 1982, 1986, 1990, 1996 and 2012 with regard the latter.
In fact, last summer was the prime example, as Hodgson’s England entered Euro 2012 with expectations the lowest they had ever been for the Three Lions going into a major international tournament, and while the side once again departed at the quarterfinal stage having lost a penalty shootout, they actually played at times with the freedom of a team that had been written off as no hopers who would be back home as soon as the group stages had been concluded.
So, more of the same negativity next summer will play straight into Hodgson and Co’s hands and may very well once again act as a springboard to success…
Fingers crossed that Wilshere will be fit enough to compete at next summer's World Cup
Hodgson will be able to call upon a group of exciting young players all with growing experience at the very highest levels of both club and international football when he selects his squad for next year’s World Cup finals, which ultimately will give his side an excellent chance of going all the way.
In goal, Joe Hart is already when one of the brightest goalkeepers on Planet Football and if England are to cause a surprise or two in Brazil, then the Manchester City shot-stopper will need to be at his very best.
Manchester United should provide both centre-back Chris Smalling and forward Danny Welbeck to Hodgson’s 23-man squad, with each player already showing at Old Trafford that they have the skill, technique and temperament to succeed on the world stage.
And Liverpool duo Raheem Sterling and Daniel Sturridge will also, barring loss of form, be strutting their stuff in South America and could just very well be two of Hodgson’s surprise packages.
However, the most important member of this potentially word-class group of 18-to-25-year-olds is Arsenal midfield player Jack Wilshere who, barring injury, will take his place at the heart of the Three Lions midfield as one of England’s few already genuine top-level performers.
And if "Jack the Lad" turns up fit and free from injury, then next summer could very well be the time when he well and truly announces himself on the international arena like he has done for Arsenal since 2008.
Keeping his eye on the ball: can Rooney light up the international arena next summer as he did so memorably for England at Euro 2004?
By the time of the next World Cup, Wayne Rooney will be 28 and potentially set to be taking part in his last-ever global international tournament, with the previous two versions that he competed in both unmitigated personal disasters for the Manchester United striker.
Ever since a young Rooney burst on to the international stage as a fresh-faced 18-year-old at Euro 2004, the player has endured disappointment after disappointment with England, and none more so than when competing at World Cups.
In the 2006 tournament, Rooney was recovering from a broken metatarsal (via BBC Sport) sustained playing against Chelsea in April of that year, an injury that badly hindered his subsequent performances when he did finally manage to feature for England, before he was then sent off against Portugal (via BBC Sport) in their last-eight defeat in Gelsenkirchen.
Meanwhile, four years later it was déjà vu all over again as the front man went into South Africa 2010 with a niggling ankle problem (via the Daily Mail) picked up against Bayern Munich three months earlier, and coupled with off-the-pitch turmoil in his private life, endured his worst-ever tournament in an England shirt.
So in essence, next summer really could be now or never time for Rooney in an international sense, with the very real possibility facing the Croxteth-born attacker that Brazil 2014 will be his last opportunity to show the watching world just what all the hype and media attention in England has been all about this past decade and more.
And anyone who knows anything about Rooney will understand that the Liverpudlian loves nothing more than a challenge and to prove his doubters wrong, and where better to do that in front of a watching global audience of over a billion people?
Brothers in arms: captain Gerrard and central-midfield accomplice Lampard will bring with them a plethora of caps and international experience at the very highest level to Brazil next summer
Every nation that has ever won the World Cup has always, always had one thing in common: an experienced, settled spine to that team, and in this regard England will go into net year's finals in good shape.
From goalkeeper, to centre-back, through to full-backs, central midfield and up front, the Three Lions will travel to Rio jam packed with caps and experience right through the key positions of the side: Hart (caps: 28/age: 25), Rio Ferdinand (81/34), Ashley Cole (100/32), Glen Johnson (46/28), Steven Gerrard (101/32), Frank Lampard (94/34) and Rooney (79/27).
And, in the heat of Brazil, as Hodgson’s men attempt to create history by becoming the first country from Europe to win the World Cup in South America, the team’s granite backbone will really come to the fore, none more so than in the shape of Champions League-winners Ferdinand, Gerrard, Lampard and Rooney. Top-level operators who have all done it at the very highest levels.