Roy Hodgson spoke of jangling nerves, rising tension and even sleepless nights in the build-up to the contests that will finally determine whether England reach Brazil automatically and yet, amid all the apprehension, he had a bolder message to impart. "There are always bridges to cross in life, but I don't cross bridges before I come to them," he said. "And the doomsday scenarios put before me I won't have to confront because I believe the team will do it."
The manager's first qualification campaign culminates in the fortnight ahead with visits from Montenegro and Poland that will determine the national side's position in Group H. There are various scenarios that could see England progress by winning in the first of those fixtures on Friday week but, more realistically, they will be driven in the knowledge that wins in both matches, against teams ranked 27 and 65 in the world, will ensure they are bound for the World Cup. Slip up and a two-leg November play-off, or worse, awaits, and it is that fear the management is keen to banish. Theirs is an opportunity.
The 23-man squad Hodgson announced at Wembley on Thursday contained few surprises. Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are injured, leaving Ashley Young as arguably the most notable omission, restricting the manager's options from wide even if the Manchester United forward has become a bit-part player at his club, with his form hardly demanding inclusion. Faith is retained, unsurprisingly, in Joe Hart as the side's No1 despite those recent slips at Manchester City, and there is excitement within the set-up at the prospect of pairing two of the more prolific recent performers, Daniel Sturridge and Wayne Rooney, in attack.
Hodgson tempered that enthusiasm with a recognition that he has been here before, with "a smile on my face on a Thursday only to have them wiped off by the Sunday", when key personnel tend to limp away after a bruising weekend of Premier League fixtures. He may spend his debut appearance on Match of the Day alongside Gary Lineker and Alan Shearer on Saturday night perched on the edge of his seat, a pose he will then adopt at White Hart Lane as he watches Tottenham Hotspur take on West Ham the following day. How he will crave that all emerge unscathed to report fit to St George's Park on Monday.
Despite the inclusion of Ross Barkley and Andros Townsend, the manager will lean heavily upon experience to see them through. His three centurions – Ashley Cole, Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard – will surely all start with the 84-cap Rooney. Indeed, it might be possible even now to envisage the team Hodgson sends out against Montenegro, the deposed group leaders, with the only real intrigue surrounding whether James Milner's industry or Townsend's direct running fills in for Walcott on the right. The Spurs player will have another chance to prove his credentials on Sunday but, like Barkley, is flourishing at present.
"They have a refreshing lack of concern, if you like, about losing the ball or trying things," said Hodgson. "They haven't been weighed down by that type of criticism you get when you become a top player, when everyone expects things of you and if you don't deliver, the criticism comes. Ross and Andros do what they do and without fear. The problems come later when, say, Barkley doesn't have a wonder game and people wonder why not.
"Out wide we still have flexibility. Danny Welbeck does work from wide areas, Milner has done it for the last 18 months, and Sturridge can do it. I'm not saying I consider Sturridge a wide player, or that we're woefully short of wingers, but there are a lot of attacking players in the team. Options. We've had games in the past where, sometimes, the bench hasn't been quite as strong as one would have liked, especially with all the injuries. There hasn't been pressure on me from the bench, people saying: 'Get me on.' In these games, that's how it will be. That's how it should be."
Those players must now find a first group win against a side other than Moldova or San Marino, the section's whipping boys. On the basis that he had been parachuted in late in the day before Euro 2012, the success of this qualification campaign represents the first true test of Hodgson's England, which might explain his "nervous tension".
"I'll have my fair share of sleepless nights and hope that my centre-back doesn't fall over or the centre-forward slips up in front of an open goal," he added. "However well you prepare a game as a player or coach, things can still go wrong. It's not a science. Decisions go for and against you.
"But I'm confident the team can do it and I'm pleased we're in a situation where we know that, by winning the games, we will qualify. It's up to us to do that. I've never shied away from the responsibility, and I won't now. My whole life at the moment is focused on these two games. October 11 and 15 … two matches at Wembley against two opponents we're capable of beating. I believe we're going to do it. I'm confident we'll do it. Now we have to make sure we use the 95 minutes to do it."