England arrived in South Africa on Thursday morning hoping a favourable first-round draw can be the catalyst for a serious World Cup challenge this time around for the Three Lions.
Cool, clear conditions greeted some of the most watched performers in the global televised football arena when they landed at Johannesburg international airport with disciplinarian manager Fabio Capello.
Live broadcasts of virtually all English Premiership matches mean the stars of Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool are more recognisable to many South Africans than domestic equivalents.
A recent survey here revealed England would be the second most popular team after Brazil among local supporters should the national side (Bafana Bafana) fail to go all the way in the June 11-July 11 tournament.
The Italian has transformed England from a team that failed to even reach the Euro 2008 championship under Steve McClaren into third favourites at odds of 11-2, right behind 2008 Euro champions Spain and Brazil for the world title.
Many of the McClaren-era team remains, including central defenders Rio Ferdinand and John Terry, midfielders Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard and leading goalscorer Wayne Rooney.
Gerrard meanwhile, revealed the “winning mentality” instilled into the England team by Fabio Capello during his two and a half years in charge.
Gerrard said: “From when the manager first took over, there has been a change. I think every player has gone on record to say that it was a tough time to play for England a couple of years ago as there was pressure. The manager has given us a winning mentality and confidence.”
Gerrard, who celebrated his 30th birthday on Sunday, is refusing to look too far ahead. But the team vice-captain is confident that England can top their group in South Africa.
He said: “I think we can get out of the group as winners and then we take the last-16 challenges on.
“I do not really want to look any further ahead but we have a good mix of experience and fresh talented youngsters,” he said.