The World Cup is nearly upon us.
A time for wall-to-wall football at all hours of the day, feasting on some of the most dazzling footballers to grace the planet and celebrating glorious goals as the best team in the world is chosen by pure natural selection.
Oh yeah and as much as you tell yourself you won’t, you will definitely sit down to watch England’s first game believing in your heart that Harry Kane will lead us to World Cup glory.
Well I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news but it may not pan out exactly as you imagine with Kane banging in a hat-trick in the final against Germany as Toni Kroos cries into Mesut Ozil’s shoulder.
Let’s hope it’s not far off, but before all that the Three Lions have to navigate a deceptively tricky group.
We kick off against Tunisia in the 14th match of the tournament, then face Panama before what is likely to be a winner-takes-all game for first place in the group with Pot 1 opponents Belgium.
Tunisia are ranked 27th in the world and will be making their fifth World Cup appearance, the North African side are managed by national team legend Nabil Maaloul who masterminded their first qualification for 12 years.
Their star man is Youssef Msakni who plays for Qatari side Al-Duhail SC and scored a hat-trick against Guinea in the qualifiers, a vital man in this Tunisia side.
England should comfortably have enough to get a win with a selection of top end Premier League players, but don’t rule out a stodgy 0-0 as England struggle to get going.
Expect Belgium to get all three points against Panama with Eden Hazard setting up supersub Michy Batshuayi for two classic poacher’s finishes. (More on this later).
Next up for Southgate and the lads is Panama who qualified at the expense of the USA. We already like them.
This will be Panama’s first ever World Cup appearance and although they are wild underdogs their manager Hernan Dario Gomez is the only boss to take three different nations to a summer roadshow.
They’ve tournament nous in the manager but if England can’t beat the 56th ranked nation then we don’t deserve a place in the knockout phase.
Meanwhile, Belgium could struggle to perforate a Tunisia defence as Romelu Lukaku toils in front of goal, until Batshuayi comes on finds a winner.
Then comes the main event, England v Belgium for top spot and the chance to avoid Germany, Argentina and Spain’s side of the draw.
Will Michy Batshuayi be the man that sinks England in Kaliningrad?
The Belgian never got the chance to be the main man at Chelsea when Diego Costa was replaced by Alvaro Morata as Antonio Conte didn’t trust him, despite his excellent goals-to-minutes ratio.
However, a January loan move to Borussia Dortmund gave the 24-year-old a chance to lead the line and show just what he can do, and he immediately repayed them.
Two goals against Newcastle in his last Chelsea game sparked a run of seven goals in four games, including two goals and an assist on his Dortmund debut as he adjusted to life in Germany with ease.
The Batsman made his debut for Belgium in 2015, scoring on his debut and then scored with his first touch at Euro 2016 thanks to a Hazard assist. Chelsea connection.
His record stands at 12 goals in 22 international matches which just edges Lukaku, who is Belgium’s record goal scorer, with 31 in 65 games although they are the same age.
His time at Chelsea shouldn’t define him as a player and being Dortmund’s starting striker for half a season should put him in contention for a starting place in Belgium’s side, especially if he continues to score at his current rate.
There is also the fact that Batshuayi already has the link up with Hazard from his time at Stamford Bridge and when you add in the creative juices from Kevin De Bruyne and Dries Mertens, a fast striker with a nose for goal could terrorise England’s back line.
Whoever Southgate chooses to send out against one of the World Cup’s perennial dark horses they will have to deal with a blend of speed, incision and De Bruyne levels of wizardy.
Let’s pray it’s not the Chris Smalling-Phil Jones axis that has been so wobbly for United.
Worse still while the defenders are trying to mark Hazard and De Bruyne out of the game, a razor sharp Batshuayi after a fine half a season in Germany could punish England by finishing off the perfect passes he’s supplied with.
Looking at it player for player England have a starting XI that is capable of beating Belgium but the Red Devils qualified with a near perfect record of nine wins and one draw.
It would be very typical for an England side to win this crunch match, come first in the group and then lose to Colombia in the last 32.
Let’s be honest we could be looking at just salvaging anything from this game, with the Belgians likely going into it as favourites.
A likely path would then see the Three Lions go into a knockout game against a Robert Lewandowski-led Poland before drawing one of the genuine big boys if we get through that.
Either way we are already drooling in anticipation.