England united ahead of France opener
The verbal hand grenade tossed between England manager Roy Hodgson and captain Steven Gerrard was still causing vibrations as they started their final training session in the giant bowl of Donetsk's Donbass Arena.
Like someone arriving at a party fashionably late and with every intention of spoiling the buoyant mood, a member of the French media shattered the relative calm by openly questioning England's right to be called a great football nation.
If it was designed to provoke a reaction and lace England's opening Euro 2012 meeting with France in Ukraine on Monday with added spice the ploy worked - whether it worked in a good way remains to be seen.
There is a quiet confidence about Hodgson's new England and it was not dented by this abrupt, and presumably unwanted, intrusion into their plan to present a fresh footballing face to the watching world in steamy Donetsk on Monday evening.
As Hodgson and Gerrard left the main media theatre and retired to a packed anteroom the subject was swiftly revisited and was clear it was not well received, particularly by the Liverpool captain.
Hodgson, with diplomatic skills honed during years of experience, accepted the question's validity after 46 years without the sniff of a major trophy since the 1966 World Cup win.
He said: "It was a facetious question, not what you would call spiteful, but I suppose there was an element of truth in what he was saying."
Gerrard's response was a visible hardening of expression, a narrowing of the eyes and a further furrowing of the brow. He will remember the face of his inquisitor should England start Euro 2012 with a win against Laurent Blanc's side.
"Questions about whether we can beat the top teams are more of a motivation," said Gerrard. "I've got belief in my team-mates. I see it in training, I see it week-in week-out in the Premier League. We have underperformed and not delivered in major tournaments before and I can take that criticism.
"For me it is a motivation. I think once we will click and we will get an a bit of luck and prove an awful lot of people wrong, not just in this country and around the world - but people like that fella there who was sitting at the back.
"The players want to put some of the accusations that have been aimed at this squad right."
Gerrard's appointment as captain, a deserved return of the armband, means he does not require added motives to win Hodgson's first competitive game - but to question England's status as a European football superpower clearly burned on to his psyche.
This is part of the armoury England will take into the imposing stadium here in Donetsk, where tempatures are expected to hit a high of the mid-30s on Monday - a sharp change in climate from cool Krakow that had defender Joleon Lescott tweeting that it was "no joke."
Hodgson has had the introductions with the friendly wins against Norway and Belgium. Now the serious business starts with England unburdened by great expectations but setting their own goals for achievement at Euro 2012.
England's 64-year-old manager, now familiar with the phrase "40 days and 40 nights" as it encompassed his period of preparation, was in relaxed mood as he approached a game he regards as the pinnacle of his lengthy career.
He broke away from the main group of England's squad as they went through a 15-minute open training session, walking to the sidelines to exchange greetings with familiar media faces.
As Hodgson talked the influence of new backroom staff Ray Lewington and Gary Neville was not merely visible but audible - his former assistant at Fulham already appearing to be a particularly strong and vocal influence on the training ground.
Only time will tell, but early impressions suggest Hodgson has already forged a tight-knit group able to ignore the outside influences of the continuing debate about Rio Ferdinand's non-selection. The focus was firmly on those here in Ukraine, not absent friends.
Gerrard is particularly impressed with the new regime. He said: "We're living together out here. You can get lots of messages across in the team meetings. The manager, Ray Lewington and Gary Neville have been superb. The videos we have had have been very clear, especially involving the French, so no player is going into this game unprepared."
Hodgson admits time has been of the essence in the intense period since he succeeded Fabio Capello at the start of May but he suggested his early work has given him a pleasant surprise.
"It has been a short period of time," he said, "but I'm really quite surprised that I'm as confident of what the players are going to show you and show the nation and do for the nation as I can possibly be. I can't say more than that."
And so, as he prepares for his competitive debut as England manager, the game that will help crystallise those early positive thoughts he has about his squad, what will his message be to the men he sends out to represent an expectant nation watching 1,700 miles away?
He said: "We have done the best preparation we can possibly do. I'll them 'I think you're ready. I think you're good enough. Now have the confidence and belief in yourself and get out there and show it and don't feel too down if it doesn't work out for you.'"
Hodgson eagerly awaits these first steps into a new era. As does England.