The usual cocktail of ferver and anticipation surrounded Roy Hodgson's England squad announcement for the friendlies against Chile and Germany Thursday, and as usual, the manager has thrown up a surprise or two.
The line most national newspapers will take will be the Joe Hart versus Fraser Forster debate, as the Manchester City No. 1 is under intense pressure following numerous gaffes and mistakes in the past year.
Hodgson confirmed in his press conference that Hart will start one of the two games at Wembley this month, while focus also fell upon the "monkeygate" debacle and the inclusions of three Southampton stars.
Unfortunately, all these talking points cloud the genuine importance of the situation, which was outlined by Hodgson upon announcing the team.
There are just three international fixtures between now and the moment Hodgson unveils his World Cup squad for Brazil. That's 270 minutes of football for a host of players to prove they should command a seat on the plane.
Chile, Germany and Denmark. That's your lot.
Any player who hasn't been called up to a Hodgson squad by this point can likely bin their dreams of playing in the showpiece event next year, and for those who have, an eery sense of competition and desperation will begin to set in.
A glance at the official 28-man squad, released by The FA, will show you that this team appears to be caught somewhere between an experimental squad and a dry run for the World Cup proper.
This is Hodgson saying, "it's between these guys," and it's arguable only one other player has an outside shot of breaking into the side come mid-2014—Ravel Morrison.
That Ross Barkley and Andros Townsend are involved is a strong sign of faith in England's youngest, most promising options, and Theo Walcott appears the only injury-related absence who would otherwise have been included.
The first XIs Hodgson plays against both Chile and Germany will tell us precisely nothing about his intentions for the final squad, but what the players do behind closed doors and on the pitch (when given a chance) will.
The gaffer will have around 17 of his 23 men penned in for Brazil, and it's up to the likes of Jay Rodriguez, Adam Lallana and Kieran Gibbs to prove they should be around for the long haul.
Tuesday, Nov. 12, when the majority of the squad will make their way towards Hodgson's headquarters, will mark the biggest week of their lives.
Time to perform.
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