It is a year to the day since Fabio Capello quit the England job over the Football Association's decision to remove the captaincy from John Terry, sending the FA into crisis-mode. It was almost three months until Roy Hodgson was appointed his successor. In the meantime, the general consensus was that Euro 2012 was a write-off, and the best a new man could do was to limit the damage.
A year on from Capello's departure, Hodgson this week became the first England manager to beat Brazil since Bobby Robson. He has overseen 13 matches, navigated a difficult Euro 2012, but drawn twice in four 2014 World Cup qualifiers. Wednesday night was arguably his best moment so far as England manager and a good portent for a difficult year ahead.
Build a regular team
It irritates Hodgson when he is reminded that he has used 45 different players in 13 games. Chris Smalling was the 45th, playing for the first time under Hodgson on Wednesday night. He points out that he had to take a look at his options. This week he was blessed with a relatively injury-free squad, allowing him to pick a powerful side that outfought Brazil in many departments.
Hodgson has looked at just about every option at his disposal and the expectation is that now he will try to pick a more settled team – although international football does not always permit managers that luxury.
As usual, some players have emerged under Hodgson as new stalwarts of the team. He is an admirer of the group from Manchester United. Against Brazil, Smalling went straight in ahead of Joleon Lescott and Phil Jagielka. Tom Cleverley is another favourite, playing on Wednesday in the No 10 position which Hodgson likes him in. Danny Welbeck has started eight of the 13 games for which Hodgson has been in charge.
There are the team-sheet certainties – Steven Gerrard, Wayne Rooney, Ashley Cole, Joe Hart, Jack Wilshere and Glen Johnson. The rest is up for grabs. Wednesday was just Theo Walcott's second start under Hodgson. Then there are the likes of Ashley Young, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and James Milner competing for the wide positions. Clearly, the greatest uncertainty is in central defence.
Sort out the centre of defence
Gary Cahill's error for Brazil's equaliser after half-time was unfortunate for the Chelsea man, who had enjoyed a decent first half. Cahill has 13 caps now and played in the Champions League with Chelsea but, having served a long international apprenticeship of late call-ups and match days in the stand, he has still not made the place his own. So far Hodgson has picked six different defensive pairings in 13 games. Much of the time that has been enforced by injury. The only consistency the team has had was during Euro 2012 when Lescott and Terry were the settled defensive partnership. Since then Terry has retired and Lescott has lost his regular place in the Manchester City team.
What Hodgson is not prepared to do is bring back Rio Ferdinand, even though the 34-year-old is ahead of Smalling in the pecking order at Manchester United. "I'm not going to talk about Rio," was Hodgson's blunt answer when the possibility of recalling him to the fold was raised on Wednesday night.
Hodgson left Ferdinand out the Euro 2012 squad partly on the grounds that he said he could not expect a player of that experience to sit on the bench. That, however, is exactly what Frank Lampard, older than Ferdinand, has done and is proving effective. But Hodgson is not for budging and there seems more to this one than meets the eye.
Deal with the Under-21 row
It would not be the FA and the England team if there was not a row brewing somewhere. The European Under-21 Championship in Israel this summer is yet another potential source of friction as clubs lobby for players who have already featured in the senior team – such as Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Raheem Sterling, Jordan Henderson, Phil Jones and Wilfried Zaha – not to play in the tournament.
Although eligible, it is hard to imagine Wilshere being called up and, ultimately, this is not Hodgson's problem directly. Stuart Pearce is the Under-21 manager, although with no FA contract beyond the summer and his past form for making big selection calls (see Walcott in 2009 and David Beckham's exclusion for London 2012) there is no telling who he might select.
Hodgson will have to keep an eye on the situation because it will affect his relationship with club managers. Naturally, he will wish to take a strong side to Rio de Janeiro on 2 June for the return friendly against Brazil.
After Wednesday's game, Hodgson anticipated that Sir Alex Ferguson would be unhappy about Welbeck and Cleverley's involvement, although both were substituted. "I do try and talk to them [club managers] and make certain I let them know my thoughts," he said. But a large part of the reason why England beat Brazil was because key players remained on the pitch. It was a welcome departure.
Navigate a tough schedule
It might be the FA's 150th anniversary celebrations but that does not make it any easier for Hodgson when he looks at the fixture list. He has overcome the first hurdle in style but there are more to come. None more critical than the second World Cup qualifier in March against Montenegro in Podgorica that follows the qualifier away to San Marino four days earlier.
There is no relenting in the friendlies, either. England will be expected to beat the Republic of Ireland at Wembley in May and then Scotland in August before the domestic season kicks off. They may not be opposition high in the Fifa rankings but they have great motivation to spoil the party. Defeat in either of those games, or even a poor performance, will increase pressure on England. In fact, the least pressure will be when England play Brazil in Rio in June. No one expects them to win there.
Qualifying for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil is integral to the FA – and not just for the obvious reasons. This is the first test of the new "Club England" set-up, running the national team in splendid isolation within the FA. It also falls within the first year of St George's Park's existence, the 150th anniversary celebrations and the appointment of a successor to chairman David Bernstein.
Failure to make it to Brazil next summer would be a dreadful blow, especially as the FA moves into a new era in the hope that it can plan for the long term with Hodgson, who has very much bought into the organisation's aims. The memory of Capello's abrupt departure is still fresh.
Brazil bashing: Views from back home
Folha de Sao Paulo
Brazil's biggest-selling newspaper pulled no punches by noting that their national side had not defeated a World Cup-winning nation for three years.
"Little movement in attack and defensive failures" were highlighted by Rio de Janeiro newspaper O Globo, but praised Chelsea's Oscar and Queen's Park Rangers' Julio Cesar for their performances.
Jornal do Brasil
The Jornal described Neymar's performance as "unrecognisable", saying that the young star has failed to make an impact in the most important games.
O Correio Braziliense
As well as picking out Neymar for his quiet night, the newspaper was also disappointed with Ronaldinho's return to the side, and conceded that England were "slightly superior" overall at Wembley.Reuse content