The weather may not suggest so, but a World Cup summer will move a significant step closer at Anfield on Wednesday, when England stage a dress rehearsal for their opening group game. Uruguay have been chosen as the opposition specifically for their similarities to neighbouring Paraguay, whom England must overcome in Frankfurt on 10 June.
It is the last fixture before Sven Goran Eriksson is obliged to name the 23 players he intends taking on his farewell tour, so time has effectively run out for anyone untried at international level, such as Bolton's Kevin Nolan or Manchester City's Joey Barton. Eriksson has also warned those currently injured that they must be not just up and running, but playing regularly and in form in order to earn a ticket to ride. The current list of absentees encompasses Sol Campbell, Ashley Cole and Michael Owen, who would all expect to go, and Jonathan Woodgate, Owen Hargreaves and Kieron Dyer, who must fear missing out.
"I would have picked Wood-gate but he is unlucky," Eriksson said. "Every time I have decided to pick him he is injured some days before I announce the squad, and the same has happened now. It's a big question mark, of course, but I hope he will play more regularly, because he's an extremely good player."
Alas, he is clearly an injury-prone one too, who has been available for one England game in the past three years. With Jamie Carragher and Ledley King as back-up for Rio Ferdinand, John Terry and Campbell in central defence, there is no need to risk Woodgate. Eriksson has spoken to Campbell, of whom he said: "He desperately wants to play in the World Cup and I'm sure he will be ready. It's not a matter for me to discuss what happened at Arsenal, but I hope he will soon start to play on a regular basis because that's a must if he wants to take part in the World Cup."
The same applies to Cole, whose importance was underlined by the poor performances of Wayne Bridge and then Paul Konchesky at left-back in the friendly against Argentina. He is scheduled to play another reserve game tomorrow.
Hargreaves, out of sight if not mind in Munich, is absent for a third successive international this week and Dyer suffered another setback in midweek, after having already missed most of the season. Manchester United's Alan Smith must now, of course, be ruled out of contention for the summer, all of which improves the chances of Jermaine Jenas, Michael Carrick and Kieran Richardson. Stewart Downing, vying with Richardson as the understudy to Joe Cole, and West Ham's impressive Nigel Reo-Coker have once again been left with the Under-21s, who play Norway at Reading on Tuesday.
The strikers pick themselves in this week's squad, with Charlton's Darren Bent in for the injured Owen, though the more interesting question is who will partner Wayne Rooney in the team: Jermain Defoe, who has not started since a poor display in Denmark last August, or the altogether different Peter Crouch. Eriksson intends to pick his strongest available side on Wednesday before substituting most of the Champions' League players (who could be a dwindling band after next week's second-leg matches, to the national team's advantage).
Whatever faults may be detected in his five years as head coach, there have been few arguments for a good while now about the best XI. Every football fan in the country could name the side to play Paraguay in 15 weeks' time, which might well make England unique among the 32 competing teams.
Wednesday's opponents, although knocked out of the World Cup in a play-off by Guus Hiddink's Australia, are one of the few countries against whom England have a negative record (Brazil, Italy, Romania and the unified Germany being the others). England have prevailed only twice in nine meetings, and only once in four matches in this country, at Wembley in 1964. It was Uruguay, clever but cynical, who dampened World Cup optimism with a goalless draw in a grim opening game in 1966 and now hope to rain on Eriksson's last Anfield parade.
"They are the South American team most close to Paraguay, style-wise," he said. "Not completely the same, of course, but they keep the ball well, have good technique and play quick South American football."
By the same token Jamaica have been chosen as the opposition for England's final warm-up, on 3 June, because of their similarity to the second group opponents, Trinidad and Tobago. A Scandinavian side with similar style to Sweden might have been expected for the other friendly four days earlier, but Eriksson, with his local knowledge, feared too vigorous a work-out and opted for Hungary instead: "We should have chosen Norway, but Norway would kick us. No, not kick us but do everything to beat us. When Scandinavian teams meet England something happens inside and they have to beat England."
Since the same applies to South American sides, Wednesday may prove to be livelier than the average Eriksson friendly.
Paul Robinson (Tottenham)
Robert Green (Norwich)
David James (Manchester City)
Luke Young (Charlton)
Wayne Bridge (Chelsea)
John Terry (Chelsea)
Wes Brown (Manchester United)
Rio Ferdinand (Manchester United)
Ledley King (Tottenham)
Gary Neville (Manchester United)
Jamie Carragher (Liverpool)
Frank Lampard (Chelsea)
David Beckham (Real Madrid)
Steven Gerrard (Liverpool)
Joe Cole (Chelsea)
Jermaine Jenas (Tottenham )
Shaun Wright-Phillips (Chelsea)
Michael Carrick (Tottenham)
Kieran Richardson (Man United)
Darren Bent (Charlton)
Wayne Rooney (Man United)
Peter Crouch (Liverpool)
Jermain Defoe (Tottenham)Reuse content