The road to Euro 2016 starts here. Well, technically speaking, it’s not a road, it's a Dover-to-Calais ferry which England only have a chance of crossing if they can topple Slovenia, Estonia, Lithuania and San Marino first.
So how better to begin than with the trickiest fixture of all: an away fixture against fellow group favourites Switzerland, whose swashbuckling performances helped light up this year's World Cup before a narrow loss to Argentina.
Tonight's match is a fixture which really should have fans glued to the telly. Here are 8 things to keep an eye on.
The England Fans
A home fixture against a middling Norway side must have seemed like the footballing Alka-Seltzer England needed with a World Cup hangover. And yet the mood in Wembley was palpably sour, hangdog expressions were ever-present, and only lifted when Raheem Sterling ran with the ball. With this in mind, kicking off a Euro 2014 qualifying campaign in Basel could be a blessing for England, as if one thing has remained consistent for the Three Lions over the last few decades, it’s been the unwavering support which follows overseas.
Wayne Rooney’s form
Wayne Rooney doesn’t appear to be enjoying his football at the moment, and who can blame him, it’s not even that enjoyable to watch: sluggish, off the pace and seeing the touch or ability to beat a man desert him, with both Louis Van Gaal and Roy Hodgson blaming this failure to launch on the pressure of captaining club and country. Whatever the reason, his scoring tally speaks for itself, and the sooner he rekindles his romance for the game the better.
A playmaker to emerge
Now a Steven Gerrard-shaped hole which has opened up in England’s midfield, just who is going to provide the drive, spraying passes left, right and centre? Last week Paul Scholes stated that he’d like to see Rooney dropped deeper to fill the vacancy of chief playmaker on account of his eye for a pass. Jordan Henderson might have attempted to take on the mantle, registering 100 succesful passes to Jack Wilshire's 53 vs Norway, but time will tell whether he can dictate a game against a top class international outfit.
Hodgson’s post-match interview
“Absolute fucking bollocks,” was how England’s normally erudite and multilingual manager chose to react to certain statistics thrown his way by reporters in the wake of the Norway game, following it up with the equally comical line, “We can’t change the fact that we had a bad World Cup,” as if they come around every four weeks. He's since been quick to point out he swears all the time, but few will want to miss sticking about for the post-match interview.
Shooting on site
Whether Hodgson likes it or not, those statistics (England only recorded two shots on target against Norway) were particularly damning. It'll take guile to get in positions to inflict any real damage against such an in-form Swiss side, but expect England to react by peppering the opposition with a few more shots this time around.
Scoring a hat-trick against Honduras, The Alpine Messi was one of the brightest sparks at the World Cup. And he’s taken this summer's sterling form into his club career, finally cementing a starting place in Pep Guardiola's Bayern Munich. The onus will be on England's midfield to stick tight to the playmaker, ensuring his killer passes and late runs are kept to a minimum.
Danny The Champion Of The World
With Daniel Sturridge out injured and Arsenal fans still wondering if they’ve bought wisely in Danny Welbeck, the deadline day signing will have the perfect platform to showcase his skills with England, helped by the fact he knows Rooney’s game inside and out as the pair possibly lead the line up front.
The Death Of 442?
On the basis of England's subdued first half display against Norway, even Mike Bassett would have been cursing the 442 formation, which proved far too rigid for any attacking verve. Luckily, the diamond system employed in the second half promised much more fluidity, and which, if Hodgson throws caution to the wind, could see England taking three points tonight.
Watch Switzerland vs England live on Monday 8th September at 7.15pm, on ITV and ITV Player
[Images: Shutterstock, Rex, AllStar]