Most England fans would have watched the World Cup draw with absolute dread as they were teamed up with four time winners Italy and two time winners Uruguay.
They have good reason to be filled with dread as well, Italy may not be stock-filled with world class players in every department like the used to, indeed only Pirlo in the current squad has earned the right to bear that moniker (Buffon lost that right some time ago), but they are a team with a champion mentality, they almost always know how and exactly when to up their game. Who would have predicted Italy would face off against Spain in the Euro 2012 final? Yet, after they thrashed much fancied Germany, that was the reality.
Of course during that run Italy played England and made Hodgson's men look like amateurs as Italy, and in particular Pirlo, cradled the ball, leaving England to chase shadows. Only uncharacteristically woeful finishing enabled England to take one of the most one sided games I have witnessed to penalties.
Furthermore, when they were even more unfancied, Italy went one better to win the World Cup in 2006 amongst all the turmoil in the domestic league. Clearly this is a team that is undeterred by the magnitude of an occasion. But about when they are favourites? In recent history that has been when they have faltered. In World Cup 2002 when arguably they were the best on paper (though Brazilian, French and Spanish fans would disagree), they were knocked out against South Korea in the last 16; in Euro 2004 when they were even better, they were knocked out by Sweden and Denmark in the group stage; finally in World Cup 2010 they came last in the weakest group on paper.
What we can see is Italy are a team that are machine like in adversity, ironically human under expectation. While Italy are better than England, they are not the force they once were and England should look to pounce upon any nerves they display.
Likewise, Uruguay are on paper at least, better than England. We have seen Luis Suarez terrorize Premier League defences on a weekly basis for the past three seasons and can equally expect he is likely to do so again against England. Furthermore, Edison Cavani is in fine for PSG and on his day is one of the most clinical strikers on the planet. Finally, Diego Forlan may not be the world class talent his was during his peak, but he is still a powerful, experienced striker who knows where the net is. He is also notoriously difficult to predict; he can strike from almost any angle on the field, is ambidextrous and can score from free kicks and penalties.
However, aside from an attack that is arguably the best in the world, they are supplied by a mostly industrious midfield and protected by an average at best defence. While Uruguay finished 4th in the last Condererations Cup (incidentally losing 3rd place to Italy) and World Cup, as well as winning Copa America 2011, they also finished 5th in the World Cup qualifiers and needed a play-off victory against Jordan.
Uruguay are on their day one of the best sides in international football, but they also are one of the most inconsistent sides. All England need to do is hope to catch them on an off day.
Of course, all of that will not matter if England are not good enough, and as their defeat to Chile shows, England have work to do to reach a competitive level at the world stage.
However, the gap is not as big as people speculate it to be and we have to factor in the fact England are for once in an incredibly long time, not going into a tournament as one of the favourites. Looking at Italy and indeed other illustrious sides such as France and Holland, media expectation can heavily affect the way a team approaches a tournament.
In the past England's expectations have belied their actual talents and consequentially they have suffered for it. The golden generation had several easy groups over their course; they twice finished second in the group stages (Euro 2004 and World Cup 2010) and even failed to qualify for a main tournament once (Euro 2008). In each occasion, massive expectations were followed by massive let-downs. Eventually, when faced off against a team 'equal' in status, it was as if England had never played football and the likes of Brazil, Portgual (twice) and Germany were giving them a ruthless demonstration.
Now that all expectation is off, should we expect England to play with freedom? That depends on how good they actually are, but one expects England will now be able to chase a game in pursuit of respect, rather than lumping long balls, playing in banks of four, playing not to lose in order to shield their over-inflated egos being deflated by the fans and media.
The World Cup campaign is a short one and if either Italy or Uruguay get off to a slow start, England need to make sure they are in prime position to take advantage - as history shows, it is not out of the window.