EXPECTATION, hype and disappointment. Three words that sum up England in almost every World Cup since they won the trophy for the only time on home soil in 1966. While a semi-final showing – in Italy in 1990 – and reaching the quarter-finals in 2002 and 2006 would satisfy many other countries, it is not something that keeps their own fans happy.
England, and the England fans, expect better.
Why they do is a question for another day. The fact is that they do, and having clinched qualification for the finals with a couple of matches to spare, hopes are growing that Fabio Capello's men can win the trophy in South Africa.
Having marched through their qualifying group, they appear to be in good shape and there has been no shortage of people lining up to say that England can win the World Cup, with Brazil star Kaka the latest to give them his backing.
In the end, whether or not they succeed will depend on the players of course, and on paper, they have a strong squad with a strong spine – David James, John Terry, Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney (below left) – and a mixture of experience in the likes of David Beckham and the youth and pace of Aaron Lennon and Theo Walcott.
The fitness of Rio Ferdinand will be giving Capello a few sleepless nights, however.
In midfield, Capello has moved the ever-willing Gerrard to the left so that he and Frank Lampard can play in the same midfield and Liverpool midfielder Gerrard has responded with gusto.
On the flanks, Beckham's second loan spell at AC Milan should mean he will figure in Capello's plans for his experience as much as anything, while the return to fitness of Joe Cole could be a nice bonus and help push the likes of Lennon, Walcott and Shaun Wright-Phillips on to greater things.
In attack, Rooney is the first name on the sheet, but who he plays with is still up for grabs.
Capello is well used to balancing a big squad from his time with AC Milan and he does not suffer fools, but he generally makes the right decisions. If those decisions pay off in the summer of 2010, he will forever be a hero in England as well as Italy.
The Star: Together with Steven Gerrard, Rooney is the heart of the England side. A tireless worker, he is much faster than he is given credit for, is a great finisher and an unselfish partner in attack.