STATE OF THE NATION: Qualifiers are priority over boys from Brazil

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WITH not just one encounter with Brazil for Roy Hodgson’s England but two, 2013 should surely be a year to savour for fans of the Three Lions.

Argentina’s Lionel Messi may justifiably be regarded as the best player in the world right now but there is definitely something special about Brazil that whets the appetite, with even their blue and yellow kit being an iconic image of the game.

For that reason, the Wembley meeting between the two nations in February and the return in Rio four months later promise to be occasions to savour.

In terms of the coming year, however, it is not the home and away games with Brazil that will decide whether it has been a success but the ongoing World Cup qualifying campaign.

Four games in on the road to Brazil 2014, England sit second in Group H with eight points. Their two victories have been against the minnows of Moldova and San Marino, and the home game with Ukraine and October’s trip to Poland both ended in draws.

Such an underwhelming start means a group that the Three Lions were odds-on to win following the draw is now a much tougher proposition for a side that still have to travel to the Ukraine and take on leaders Montenegro home and away.

Both fixtures will be tough, as recent years have shown with England losing their most recent World Cup qualifier in Dnipropetrovsk four years ago and being held 2-2 in Pogdorica.

Despite that, qualification should still be within the grasp of Hodgson’s men, who remain the only team in Group H to be ranked among the best 30 teams in the world.

Even so, 2013 hardly promises to be a vintage year for supporters of the national team other than that tantalising opportunity to watch Neymar, Kaka et al in the flesh at Wembley come February 6.