THE BLOG
17/10/2013 14:02 BST | Updated 17/12/2013 05:12 GMT

England Can Thrive on New Underdog Status

It is difficult to forget the headline published in The Sun after England's 2010 World Cup group stage opponents were revealed.

Adorning a front page with the acronym 'EASY' - standing for England, Algeria, Slovenia and USA, or in this case 'Yanks' - reeked of arrogance and conceit. In the end, Fabio Capello's men made a mockery of their top-seed billing with three performances that were at best turgid, at worst inept, before their humiliation at the hands of Germany. Complacency bred mediocrity.

With this in mind, the news that England will not be among the top seeds for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil is a blessing in disguise.

It is ostensibly disastrous for Roy Hodgson. The high probability of facing one of the world's elite - Spain, Argentina, Brazil or Germany, in particular - is enough to fill English hearts with trepidation.

Xavi and Andreas Iniesta are light years ahead in thought and execution. Lionel Messi would have little trouble outfoxing Phil Jagielka. Mesut Ozil would torment the country that has taken him under his wing since his summer move from Arsenal.

But after years of suspicion, we have it in print: England are not one of the top eight sides at the World Cup.

No discussion, no argument. Simply a grim-faced reality that we are a second-rate nation, below Belgium, Switzerland and Colombia.

They are top seeds because they waltzed through qualification with bombast and swagger. Although England were impressive in vanquishing Montenegro and Poland, they made qualifying from an uninspiring group more difficult than it should have been.

But it is important to embrace rather than shun such realism. England can work with their unfamiliar underdog status, for they play some of their best football when their backs are against the wall.

When they fell behind against Sweden in the group stages of Euro 2012, they found an extra gear and sealed a 3-2 win thanks to Danny Welbeck's audacious flicked finish. They showed grit against Ukraine to secure a crucial draw last month, and attacked their most recent opponents with confidence and vivacity when they could have gone into their shell.

England will need to do it again on the big stage. Whatever hand the draw in December deals them, their group will be fraught with danger.

Switzerland are probably the weakest of the top seeds, but are extremely well-coached by the retiring Ottmar Hitzfeld: a close-knit squad will want to give the 64-year-old a send-off to remember. Belgium's Romelu Lukaku, Eden Hazard and Jan Vertonghen would relish the chance to take on their Premier League counterparts; Colombia's Falcao would lick his lips at the prospect of facing Jagielka and Gary Cahill.

Put simply, whichever of the eight seeded sides England are drawn against, they will have to be excellent. No coasting, no complacency.

Hodgson ventured outside his comfort zone by selecting Andros Townsend for the final two qualifiers, but his real strength is in drilling and organising teams to make them difficult to beat - which they are, having lost just one game in open play since his appointment in May 2012.

The 66-year-old will purge any whiff of complacency from his players' minds. Veterans Steven Gerrard, Ashley Cole and Frank Lampard travel to South America with the lingering feeling that it could be their last major tournament.

It is refreshing to know eight months before the tournament starts that there is no scope for false starts or stuttering first halves. England are officially second-rate and will play every game at the World Cup knowing they could lose it.

The elder contingent is older and wiser for its mistakes, and the younger members sheltered from the detritus of previous campaigns. The balance of the squad is right; the temperament of the players in the aftermath of victory at Wembley on Tuesday night was right.

No more excuses, no more confusion. England are not one of the top seeds because they are not one of the top sides. If humility and diligence reign, Hodgson's men could do themselves proud.