For once as we await a major tournament, England's prospects are being talked down rather than up. The players and staff are not being negative about it and nor should they be, but I don't think that realistically too many people expect Steven Gerrard to be the man holding up the World Cup five weeks from today.
My own preference would be for one of Argentina, Brazil or Spain, but despite failing to score against Honduras last night, I can see England progressing from their group and going through one knockout stage to reach the quarter-final.I can see England progressing from their group and going through one knock-out stage to reach the quarter-finals. What's vital, however, is not to lose Saturday's opening game, given that it is against Italy, one of our big rivals.
They deserved to beat us at the European Championship two years ago, even if they needed penalties to do it. Almost the last thing I wrote in my column for this paper then was that England had to move away from reliance on the traditional old 4-4-2 to something less rigid. At a World Cup in South America that is going to be more important than ever, so it is good to see that right from the start of the following season Roy Hodgson brought in a more flexible formation.
What I would also like to see from him is a change of approach from conceding possession in a conservative counterattacking game to dominating play, which is something we've not done at World Cups – and I don't think that is the way we will go now.
As a coach and manager I've always said to my teams that if they have the opportunity to get hold of a game early on, then they should do it. Against clearly superior opposition that is rarely possible, and England could not be expected to attempt it against the three other countries I mentioned. But Italy are a decent side without being a great one, they have struggled for goals, and we are good enough to take the game to them.
It will almost certainly be a tight affair and it will be interesting to see how the two managers approach it if they are level after about 75 minutes. You could see the substitutions being defensive ones, but before then I hope players such as Wayne Rooney and Adam Lallana can get between the lines and open the Italians up.
It's surprising there has been so much discussion about whether Wayne should start. I think he will be the No 10, behind Daniel Sturridge, which is probably the most important role in world football these days. It's a shame that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain picked up that injury against Ecuador when he was very lively, as I would have had him in ahead of Jordan Henderson, who could bring fresh legs later in the game. Other than that the team almost picks itself apart from one wide position, in which I would go for Raheem Sterling rather than Danny Welbeck. Sterling on the right would also allow Lallana to start on the left, where I think he is better coming in on his right foot, playing narrow and having Leighton Baines going forward outside him.
As for the defence, I just wish more of an effort could have been made to get John Terry involved again. I know all the background stuff, but the fact is that he and Gary Cahill were the best partnership in the Premier League last season and would be invaluable for England.
One small but important point: I think the staff England have taken with them for this tournament are their best ever. Steve Peters is highly rated as a sports psychologist and will be useful to the players and coaches alike, above all if and when things aren't going so well. I've worked with Tony Strudwick, the fitness coach from Manchester United, who is also excellent. So the players are in good hands. Now they just have to deliver.
I'm proud of all my old Saints marching on
Unless managers have had a really bad time at a club they tend to keep a soft spot for the place, and that is very much my feeling for Southampton. So I'm delighted that three of the players I knew there made the England squad.
Lallana has got a fantastic engine and fully deserves everything that has come his way. Rickie Lambert, another smashing lad, was one of my first signings, and while I never imagined he would be going to a World Cup I remember saying to him after a week's training that he could become a Premier League player – he got 36 goals that season.
Luke Shaw was just a kid in my time there, but all the scouts kept telling me what a talent he was and we had him training with the first team a couple of times. If Baines was to get injured I'd have no worries at all about throwing Luke in, he's that good.
I actually feel a bit sorry for Baines for having had a fantastic left-back in Ashley Cole ahead of him for so long and now having Shaw banging on the door.
Heat and caution mean it may start slowly
Conditions are going to make it difficult for all the northern- hemisphere teams playing games up in the north, and if it's a really hot day no preparation will be adequate.
Television viewers used to the Premier League will have to get accustomed to seeing some slow matches, especially early on in the group sections, when a defeat can seem like a catastrophe.
I hope that as players get used to the conditions the tempo of the games will improve and we will see some games that are worthy of the tournament.
If Messi hits form then it's Argentina for me
There's something about the words "World Cup" and "Brazil" being linked together that make the next few weeks seem all the more exciting.
The atmosphere at Brazil's games will be something special and although the pressure on them will be enormous, they've got the right man in Luiz Felipe Scolari to handle it.
Can his players do so, though? It is easy to forget that someone like Neymar is still only 22, taking on huge responsibilities which will really hit home on Thursday when the hosts play Croatia in the opening game.
Argentina have less of that enormous pressure on them and if you push me, then as long as Leo Messi can find his real form I would have them just ahead of Brazil and Spain. But having the host country do well, as they surely will, is always a boost to a tournament and I think this could be a potentially great one.
Alan Pardew, the manager of Newcastle United, will be writing each week during the World Cup.
Lovren just one of many looking to impress
There are invariably some lesser-known names who come to the fore at a World Cup, often earning themselves a big move. I will be interested to see how Dejan Lovren does for Croatia after his first year at Southampton.
A few who have already made their reputation and should do well are the Colombian midfielder James Rodriguez, who went to Monaco from Porto for a lot of money; Real Madrid's Raphaël Varane, who will be playing at centre-half for France; and the Atletico Madrid pair of goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois (Belgium) and striker Diego Costa (Spain), who will both be joining Jose Mourinho at Stamford Bridge next season.Reuse content