By George Ankers
Top of the table with two games to go – England's 0-0 draw with Ukraine may not have been the most entertaining fare but it got the Three Lions a little closer to Brazil 2014.
Challenging home matches against Montenegro and Poland await but Roy Hodgson's side will be favourites for both. Should they be successful, thoughts will immediately turn to who the manager might bring with him to the World Cup.
Goal brings you the first edition of the Hodgson Index, charting the state of the England boss's likely intended squad for next summer. Some names will already be inked in, others in pencil. With nine months to go, this is how things are shaping up...
|ON THE PLANE
|Joe Hart (Manchester City)
Glen Johnson (Liverpool)
Kyle Walker (Tottenham)
Phil Jagielka (Everton)
Gary Cahill (Chelsea)
Ashley Cole (Chelsea)
Leighton Baines (Everton)
Frank Lampard (Chelsea)
Steven Gerrard (Liverpool)
Jack Wilshere (Arsenal)
Theo Walcott (Arsenal)
Daniel Sturridge (Liverpool)
Wayne Rooney (Manchester United)
Danny Welbeck (Manchester United)
Barring future injuries, the full-back slots are nailed down. Though they will tussle throughout the season for first-choice status, it seems certain that right-backs Glen Johnson and Kyle Walker will be taken to Brazil, along with Ashley Cole and Leighton Baines on the left.
On Tuesday, Phil Jagielka and Gary Cahill became the first England centre-back pairing to play in five consecutive internationals since Rio Ferdinand and John Terry at World Cup 2006. Hodgson has clearly found his preferred choices here.
In midfield, places are assured for England's safe captain Steven Gerrard and new centurion Frank Lampard, their experience valued ahead of what will surely be their final major tournament. Joining them is Arsenal starlet Jack Wilshere, who showed against Ukraine that he is not yet a surefire matchwinner but has already proved class enough to inspire a win over Brazil earlier in 2013.
Theo Walcott and Danny Welbeck are clearly at the forefront of Hodgson's thinking and show no sign of lacking for game time at their clubs this season, while Wayne Rooney's talent and record are such that no amount of grumpiness or controversy are likely to keep him out.
Finally, given Daniel Sturridge's electric start to the season, there will surely be no denying the Liverpool man a ticket to Brazil. The forward offers a flair otherwise nearly non-existent in the senior set-up and, though injured for the latest round of qualifiers, has five goals in four games in 2013-14.
|John Ruddy (Norwich City)
Phil Jones (Manchester United)
Chris Smalling (Manchester United)
Michael Carrick (Manchester United)
Tom Cleverley (Manchester United)
James Milner (Manchester City)
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (Arsenal)
Ashley Young (Manchester United)
Aaron Lennon (Tottenham)
Jermain Defoe (Tottenham)
Rickie Lambert (Southampton)
Fitness may prove the biggest issue but Hodgson clearly believes in the readiness of Phil Jones and Chris Smalling to step up to international level and the Manchester United pair, particularly the versatile Jones, are on pole as second-string centre-backs.
They are joined by club colleagues in Michael Carrick and Tom Cleverley. Arguably the best-performing English midfielder of the past three seasons, Carrick's under-use by Hodgson was particularly pronounced against Ukraine but he will surely be in the frame, while Cleverley's substitute appearances was a reminder of the manager's interest in him.
Ashley Young is another Hodgson favourite, consistently selected despite iffy club form, and it may take an outstanding season from an outsider to oust him. James Milner is yet to nail down a clear role in the England team but his versatility and commitment are valued.
Hodgson had faith enough in Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to start him in their Euro 2012 opener but the Arsenal youngster is set to be out injured until November and may need to reassert himself. Fellow winger Aaron Lennon will return sooner but faces a battle for his place at Tottenham and could therefore be under threat.
Up front, Jermain Defoe has featured consistently in the England squad, though the emergence of Sturridge could yet squeeze him out. Rickie Lambert, meanwhile, has enjoyed a fine start to his international career and is in the driving seat to be the designated target man – at the very least, thanks to Andy Carroll's latest injury.
|Ben Foster (West Brom)
Fraser Forster (Celtic)
Matt Lowton (Aston Villa)
Luke Shaw (Southampton)
Steven Caulker (Cardiff City)
Ryan Shawcross (Stoke City)
Joleon Lescott (Manchester City)
Jack Rodwell (Manchester City)
Ross Barkley (Everton)
Gareth Barry (Everton)
Adam Lallana (Southampton)
Andros Townsend (Tottenham)
Raheem Sterling (Liverpool)
Nathan Redmond (Norwich City)
Wilfried Zaha (Manchester United)
Andy Carroll (West Ham)
Should Hodgson not wish to risk one or both of the Manchester United youngsters at centre-back, Joleon Lescott, Ryan Shawcross and Steven Caulker have all been capped under his reign and could force their way back in with a good season. Should an injury befall a senior full-back, meanwhile, talented youngsters Matt Lowton and Luke Shaw look ready to build on highly impressive 2012-13 campaigns.
Jack Rodwell is highly regarded but is unlikely to get sufficient match time at Manchester City to demand inclusion. Ross Barkley's debut against Moldova, however, proved that Hodgson is prepared to invest in the youngster.
Should the teenager not carry his early-season form throughout the campaign, however, his new Everton team-mate, Gareth Barry, may yet hope to win the manager back over as experienced cover.
There are a handful of left-field options should Hodgson wish to freshen up his flanks, however. Wilfried Zaha and Nathan Redmond have caught the eye with England Under-21s, while the raw Raheem Sterling and Andros Townsend were left on the bench against Moldova and Ukraine.
Southampton captain Adam Lallana is another to have been called up by Hodgson, included for the first time last November, though will need to deliver more consistently in his second Premier League season to have a real chance.
Finally, the enigmatic Andy Carroll looks like being in a one-on-one fight with Lambert for a centre-forward berth but, with the extent of his latest Achilles injury yet to be determined, the West Ham striker could face a long road back to fitness.
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