England once again made light work of a qualification campaign as they eased their way to Russia, but tougher tests now lie ahead.
The finals draw has been relatively kind to the Three Lions – having been placed in Group G alongside Belgium, Panama and Tunisia – but recent struggles at major competitions suggest nothing can be taken for granted.
Gareth Southgate, then, must piece together a winning formula which makes his side both entertaining and competitive – qualities which have been sadly lacking at times – but who will get the nod when the final 23-man shortlist is drawn up and tickets on the plane handed out?
ON THE PLANE
The way the 2017-18 campaign has played out, it is difficult to say with certainty whether any member of the goalkeeping crop is assured of a place in the squad.
In contrast, starting berths across the back four appear to have been sewn up if everybody is fit, with Manchester City’s John Stones and Chelsea’s Gary Cahill the favoured options at centre-half.
Danny Rose will likely be selected as the go-to option at left-back, with his former Tottenham team-mate Kyle Walker having impressed following a big-money move to Manchester City to nail down the right-back spot.
Jordan Henderson may not be to everybody’s taste, but Southgate is a big fan of the Liverpool midfielder and he will make the trip as a candidate to take the captain’s armband – or at least fill deputy duties.
Eric Dier has become an important figure for England in the midfield engine room and will definitely be handed another chance to grace a major finals, while Dele Alli will join his Spurs colleague despite seeing his form dip domestically this season.
Southgate has plenty of options to choose from in the forward areas, with Raheem Sterling’s renaissance at Manchester City guaranteeing him a place as the Three Lions cling to the hope that his standards can be maintained through to the summer.
Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford will also make the trip as a versatile option who possesses the pace to trouble the very best in the business, while Tottenham’s Harry Kane is arguably the finest striker on the planet and should skipper the team in Russia if he makes a full recovery from ankle ligament damage.
Having seen Joe Hart face relatively little competition for a number of years, England suddenly have a wealth of goalkeeping talent available to them – with some tough calls set to be made as a man once assured of the No.1 jersey struggles for game time during a loan spell at West Ham.
Everton’s Jordan Pickford and Stoke’s Jack Butland will be expected to figure in the contingent of custodians, with a loss of form and subsequent benching at Southampton pushing Fraser Forster down the list.
Ryan Bertrand figured enough under Southgate during the injury-enforced absence of Rose to suggest that he will be the second left-back, with Manchester United’s Luke Shaw, his Old Trafford team-mate Ashley Young and West Ham’s Aaron Cresswell missing out.
On the right-hand side, Nathaniel Clyne will have plenty to prove upon returning to fitness at Liverpool, with Anfield team-mate Joe Gomez (who can fill in across the back line) and Tottenham’s Kieran Trippier having edged ahead of him during a lengthy spell on the sidelines.
Michael Keane has not made the impact expected of him at Everton and may have slipped behind Leicester City's Harry Maguire, while it would be a surprise if Phil Jones – as a man who can operate in a number of positions – does not make the plane despite recent criticism of his performances for Manchester United.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is another Southgate favourite and has shown enough at Liverpool following a slow start to deserve a call, potentially alongside Reds colleague Adam Lallana – providing he can avoid further knocks and recapture his best form.
Jesse Lingard has put himself back in the picture due to an impressive couple of months at Manchester United, while Jack Wilshere’s return to favour at Arsenal has seen him brought back in from the international wilderness ahead of Chelsea’s Danny Drinkwater.
Leicester frontman Jamie Vardy can expect to complete his remarkable journey from non-league football as a back-up to Kane, with his speed and a keen eye for goal making him a useful option to have on the bench.
Danny Welbeck has offered enough to the England cause down the years to make him deserving of a ticket if he can steer clear of niggling injuries and find regular minutes at Arsenal, while a January move from the Gunners to Everton could help Theo Walcott to make a World Cup party for the first time since his surprise inclusion in Sven-Goran Eriksson’s 2006 squad.
There are not too many places left on the plane, but there are a few positions which could be snapped up.
Changes at Burnley mean Nick Pope is now a more feasible option than the man he has replaced between the sticks at Turf Moor, Tom Heaton, but both would need a minor miracle to get a call.
Swansea City's Alfie Mawson, Burnley's James Tarkowski and Middlesbrough centre-half Ben Gibson are among the others who would need to see the path clear in front of him to make the cut, despite recent inclusions, with Manchester United’s Chris Smalling a more likely candidate to ask questions of Southgate.
Harry Winks is not generating the same kind of buzz at Tottenham as he was when handed his debut in October 2017, while Ross Barkley’s lack of action at Everton and fierce competition for places at Chelsea mean he will have to wait for another opportunity to prove that he can fulfil his undoubted potential.
West Brom’s Jake Livermore and Manchester City’s Fabian Delph have never let England down when called upon, while Bournemouth's Lewis Cook has graduated from the U21 set-up to the senior fold, but there are better options available when everybody is fit and firing.
Southampton duo Nathan Redmond and James Ward-Prowse may also have to wait a little longer, Newcastle’s Jonjo Shelvey remains too far down the pecking order, while 2018 may be one major tournament too early for Crystal Palace loanee Ruben Loftus-Cheek – despite impressing in his senior outings to date - and highly rated Fulham teenager Ryan Sessegnon.
With so many deep-lying options available to Southgate – and the likes of Rashford and Welbeck being able to play down the middle if required – Bournemouth’s Jermain Defoe is likely to suffer World Cup heartache in the twilight of his career, Andy Carroll will be left behind at West Ham and Daniel Sturridge will need to find fitness and a flurry of goals during a loan stint at West Brom in order to force his way back into the reckoning.