I understand why everyone is excited about the fresh, youthful element of Roy Hodgson’s squad.
I’m excited too. The World Cup has a special magic for all football fans; we can remember the first one that captivated us and made us fall in love with the game.
For me that was Mexico 1970 when as a 12-year-old kid I watched the Brazil team which even now is regarded as the greatest of all time leave us all spellbound.
Pele, Jairzinho, Tostao...the names trip off my tongue still as if it were yesterday. That famous dummy by Pele, when he fooled the keeper, went around the other side of him and just flipped his shot wide? Wow! What a moment. We had never seen anything like that before and it was incredible.
The World Cup brings innovation – it is the breaking ground for things we haven’t seen before, either in individual skills or tactics which send football off in a new direction.
Long-range shots, free-kicks bent around walls, new team shapes and tactics – all of these things tend to have their launch point at this great showpiece.
So there’s a buzz about this ‘new’ England that is all part of the World Cup magic.
But there are two or three worries for me which leave me urging everyone not to get carried away thinking about what this first match might provide.
It’s one both teams – both – will be determined not to lose. That will be the key factor in the thinking of Roy Hodgson and Cesare Prandelli and you can understand why.
Italy are renowned for their slow starts but are masters of how to navigate their way through a big tournament to the last stages.
This first game is so important because lose it and you are under pressure immediately. We’ve got Uruguay to follow and that’s not an easy task. Better to have options there than a ‘must-win’ build-up.
But while I share some of the excitement about the youthful elements of our squad, I also have worries. Remember, some of these lads have not even played Champions League football yet and, in these huge tournaments, I promise you there is nothing like experience.
Sturridge, Lallana, Sterling, Barkley... these are the boys we are rightly excited about but they’ve probably not got 25 caps between them.
Big tournament football brings enormous pressures. Pressure on you mentally and physically.
When you are sat there waiting for the game to come round, it can be draining on mental and physical energy and that can stop players expressing themselves. The different style of the other teams has also got to be factored in.
All the stuff that goes on out there is designed to unsettle you – the tackles, the pulls, the feigning of injury. The challenge to your discipline and focus is at a whole new level.
Let’s remember that before we start expecting Sterling or Barkley to run away with the tournament. They do not have experience of big tournament football.
Another worry is that, for all our talk of it, we are still not a nation which produces players of natural ball retention. And a World Cup in South America with its burning temperatures raises the importance of keeping the ball more than ever before.
We have recognised the problem and are trying to do something about it. But it just doesn’t come naturally to us; pretty much all of our opponents will do it better.
My third worry is the defence. When you are playing up front, or in an attacking role generally, it makes the world of difference to your own game knowing that behind you is a rock solid unit on whom you can rely.
All the best club sides I featured in had this. Every great side will have been built on the same principle. As a striker it gives you confidence to try things and go forward without fear. The back four is your insurance policy, if you like.
I just do not get the impression that our back-line is the type of unit which breeds that belief for the rest of the team – yet. Maybe this will be something which develops over this World Cup but, going into the tournament, it is a problem for me.
But we’ve got our positives too. I’ve never been in the camp of those people wanting Rooney out of the side.
He’s the best we’ve got. He has experience, great experience now, and the Italians would love nothing more than to see him out of the team.
Rooney, Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard are now our three most experienced internationals and they are going to be absolutely vital for Hodgson, pictured above.
Only they really know what these next few weeks will be like and their presence in the team and dressing room is all important.
I think we know from his Albion days that Roy will be pragmatic tonight. Do not be surprised if it is a team of maximum experience. I think he will look to change things later if we need to.
It wouldn’t surprise me to see James Milner play in front of Glen Johnson, for example, as a little bit of extra protection for the right-back.
If you offered either coach a goalless draw and all players staying fit before the game they would take it, and that’s still the most likely outcome for me.Subscribe to our Newsletter