Fans were left aghast after the World Cup draw, with their beloved England being drawn into the rather over-dramatically named "group of death." Many pundits and bus driver come experts say that England will struggle to escape the death which their unfortunate group inflicts upon the lesser football nations within it. However, I believe that England will win the World Cup, just as I did in 2010, and 2006, and 2002 (the list goes on).
In previous tournaments England have thrown themselves under the double decker bus that is expectation. They would be constantly hyped after superb form in qualifying then fail to deliver in the finals. Pressure would be heaped upon them by an expectant nation until the entire team popped like carbonated weasels. This time it is different however, expectation is lower, and fans are taking an almost pragmatic approach. Even the most deliriously optimistic fan is saying it's a tough challenge, as opposed to the usual "I've taken my life savings to the bookies already!" These kinds of comments can have a detrimental effect on the team's performance as they fly around in the media, so without them England may finally be able to perform well in a major tournament.
England can also take encouragement from Liverpool's performance in the league this season, demonstrating the power of being underdogs, free from pressure. As soon as they got into pole position the pressure stopped them from performing at their free flowing and high scoring best. England can take a leaf out of Liverpool's book and exploit their position as the underdogs. Fans know that England's golden generation has lost its shine, and while the new blood does show a lot of promise, they are not world beaters just yet. England certainly don't have the best squad on paper going into the tournament, especially when compared to the likes of Spain, Germany and favourites Brazil. Unlike league competitions however, tournaments are won and lost in the moment, with form and injuries having a huge influence. If England can use in form players and get some harmony among the squad who knows how far they could get.
The weather is also predicted to have a big influence, in the heat and humidity of the amazon rainforest South American teams will have a big advantage, they know what it is like to play in such conditions. This obviously puts teams from less sunny climbs (cough cough) at a disadvantage, but I believe England can cope. Hodgson just needs to ensure that they prepare effectively and become accustomed to the conditions in time for the clash with Italy in Manaus, deep in the heart of the Amazon. It is also worth noting that some of England's best World Cup performances have come about in the searing heat of Mexico '86 and again at Italia '90. Also many members of the current squad should be used to playing European football in varied and challenging climates on Wednesday (and Thursday) nights throughout the season. The professionals should at least perform better in the conditions than the stereotypical beet root faced, alcohol plied England fan; with his knotted handkerchief cap and shortage of sun cream.
England are also starting to address their Achilles heel, penalties. Their previous record is terrible, and has been the chosen exit path of many a promising England team, even Malawi has a better record in the dreaded shoot-out. Gerrard has netted 11 this season and Leighton Baines has a 100% record from 12 yards this year, so that's two in already. Rickie Lambert is also known for being clinical from the spot. He hasn't missed since moving to Southampton in 2009, scoring 34 penalties. Young players like Raheem Sterling and Alex Oxlade-Chaimberlain don't have such glowing records but will hopefully be carried through by youthful exuberance.
Fans should believe in England's chances because coming in as underdogs will help them to perform strongly, being free from the pressures of favourites Brazil and Spain. For once the weight of a nation does not rest as heavily on their shoulders, in previous years it has been so great Michael Owen snapped his own leg to avoid a poor showing. Don't go shouting about it though, because their legs will go all wobbly and they'll turn up in Manaus in wooly bobble hats.