England should not fear a “Group of Death” when the World Cup draw is made on Friday.
In fact, it could be the making of them!
That’s the view of Alan Mullery, who was a key member of Sir Alf Ramsey’s squad in Mexico in 1970.
Mullery doesn’t believe Roy Hodgson’s team can win the trophy next summer but, whatever happens, he wants them to instill some pride into the fans back home.
“England should not be looking for soft options when the draw is made,” says Mullery, who played all four matches in Mexico.
“Not being seeded means that apart from perhaps Switzerland, we are bound to come up against one of the strongest teams in the world.
“But this is a World Cup and two-thirds of the teams will be very useful. We shouldn’t be sitting there next Friday hoping for an easy ride.
“I don’t think that would do us any favours.
“Whatever the make-up of your group, you’ve got to go there and play it. If it’s a hard group, then you lift yourselves up and see if you can become heroes.
“Even if you lose to the seeded team, you can still progress if you beat the other two.
“In Mexico, we lost to Brazil but beat Romania and Czechoslovakia to reach the quarter-finals. You really need to win two of your three games and who the opposition is shouldn’t matter.
“The main thing is that the players come home having made the country proud. That’s not happened at World Cups in recent times.
“South Africa, in particular, left a bad taste in the mouth. We let ourselves down badly.”
Mullery’s assertion that whoever they are drawn against, England are unlikely to lift the trophy comes partly from his assessment of their squad strength and partly from his experience of playing tournament football in Latin America.
“I believe Roy has done a fantastic job to get this group of players to Brazil,” he says. “But I think the last two friendlies against Chile and Germany proved that we don’t really have the quality at the moment.
“It will be very difficult for any European team because of the conditions out there and the fact that the South American teams all seem pretty strong.
“The country will mainly be boiling hot, games will be played at a slower pace and the theatrical nature of the way football is in Brazil will suit teams from that continent.
“I do believe that Roy is right to base his squad in Rio. Fabio Capello had them isolated in Rustenburg four years ago.
“They had all their phones and electronic gadgets but they were stuck out in the wilderness and bored stiff.
“In Mexico we got three phone calls home a week and used to play cricket against teams of ex-pats to generate a family atmosphere!
“Players have to integrate more. Go down to the beach. Feel part of what’s going on.
“The important thing is to know you’ve given 100% and to do yourself proud.
“And so what if you get the Group of Death? Look on it as a challenge and make it work for you.”