With World Cup preparations well under way and the number of column inches devoted to the dissection of this most glorious competition creeping up by the day, there still remains an air of the absolute unknown around the England squad.
This is in part due to the youth and adventure proliferated throughout the side, yet the burgeoning sense of optimism can also be attributed to the steel spine of experience running through the team.
From permanent fixture Joe Hart through the 212-cap midfield pairing of Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard plus 11-year veteran Wayne Rooney in attack, this may just be a side with the perfect blend of fearlessness and wisdom to surprise a few people.
Compared to the debacle of 2010, Roy Hodgson has so far earned rapturous plaudits for his canny handling of the intense scrutiny that engulfs the squad at a time like this. Unsurprisingly, his approach has been an almost total reverse from that of Corporal Capello.
The 2010 squad was England’s oldest ever and the average age would have soared higher had Paul Scholes returned to the fold, whilst never-quite-weres such as Matthew Upson and Rob Green not only travelled to South Africa, but became lynchpins in a flawed, rigid and tragically one-paced system.
That Gareth Barry was seen as the solution to the Gerrard-Lampard conundrum perhaps typifies that nightmare. In contrast, Hodgson has picked his 23 as early as possible - as opposed to his predecessor whose initial squad of 30 was filled with unease and dread before the late, final announcement was made.
England can also feel quietly confident that a relatively settled, complimentary first XI appears to be emerging. The back five selects itself, unlike in the past two tournaments, whilst in Gerrard, Rooney and Sturridge the attack possesses mainstays around which the rest of the side can be melded.
And whilst that leaves at least three places open, this can be an advantage for Hodgson. For the first time in many years at an international tournament, each member of the playing squad will feel as if he has the chance to play and make a difference.
The wide areas demonstrate this wealth of options. In Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, James Milner and Raheem Sterling, Hodgson has not just quality but also variety at his disposal. In central midfielder, Gerrard the conductor can be complimented by the hard-running of Henderson, Lampard’s industrious intelligence or the sheer unpredictably of Ross Barkley, who may just be ready to announce himself on the greatest stage of all.
Compare this to previous years, when the disappointment at Aaron Lennon’s performances was matched only by the despair at Shaun Wright-Phillips' contribution. A midfield of Barry and Lampard seems awfully flat in comparison to the vitality and vigour that appears to be gripping this current crop.
Whilst there is clearly a great deal to be optimistic about, it is also fairly clear that much the positivity should be reserved for future tournaments. By 2016, should the likes of Henderson, Sterling, Shaw and Jones continue their upward curve of improvement, they will form a backbone of class and experience capable of challenging any other nation on their day. Yet watching the first steps of the Class of ’14 promises to be entertaining at the very least.
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