As the drone of the vuvuzela fades from our consciousness and the pain of another abject English capitulation loosens its grip around our throttled pride, we come once again to that time of year where the FIFA bandwagon begins accelerating towards its annual release.
But with a potentially revitalised PES gunning to restore its battered reputation, can FIFA 11 maintain its dominance over the world of virtual football? I caught up with Dave Rutter, lead producer on EA's contender for the crown, to find out.
Last month we touched on FIFA 11's new Personality+ feature in a preview. It's an area Rutter believes will make the game fittingly different from its predecessor.
"This is a very big deal for us and we want to push this really hard," he says. "We've done this in a few ways. Firstly, we think the way the players look and move is a lot more like they are in real life. Each player's attributes matter more this year as the game is entirely driven by them. Players all have unique traits, whether they're good at long shots, have a great work rate or dribble well."
Keen to prove his claims are more than just words Rutter urges me to try out the latest build, which is 75 per cent complete. The game's increased robustness is instantly striking. Coupled with last year's 360 degree dribbling, FIFA 11's new jostling and shielding mechanics make for a far more physical experience.
Players dart into space with greater intelligence, turning their backs to onrushing opponents to protect the ball. Regaining possession also feels more believable than in FIFA 10 thanks to the increased ability to harry the opposition from every conceivable angle.
Much has been made of FIFA 11's eradication of ping pong passing; the ability to play one-touch passes regardless of player skill. While still in need of balancing, FIFA 11's revised passing system looks as though it could make for a more considered and realistic experience.
Unless you're controlling an Alonso or Xavi, you must first bring the ball under control and steady your player if you're to stand any chance of pulling off an accurate pass. While this does inject extra realism, it also slows the gameplay slightly.
Another new feature that makes this year's version feel different from FIFA 10 is the revised AI system. Players move off the ball with greater intelligence, making it harder to pull teams out of shape and exploit space.
This in turn makes the midfield feel more like a battleground than simply a conduit for launching attacks. Time on the ball is also more limited, forcing regular use of the new shielding techniques.
The revised AI also appears to make players more like their real life counterparts. Veron conjures passes in areas other players would find only opposition shins, creating pockets of space with canny one-twos before sliding killer through balls into the danger zone.
The distinction between skilful and oafish players also seems to be more defined. Messi's and Ronald's feet control the ball with rapid, blurred touches that bamboozle the opposition, while the likes of Terry lumber forward with less control but come into their own when pulling off spectacular last-ditch tackles. This in turn results in games feeling more like a series of individual battles in which each player's strengths and weaknesses become exposed.
Corners and goalkeepers also display some promise. It feels as though you have more control over crosses from the corner flag, while 'keepers appear less susceptible to dinked chips in one-on-one situations. However, one disappointment is the continued presence of 2010 FIFA World Cup's cack-handed penalty system. Here's hoping a new one is implemented before release.
A few niggles and areas requiring polish aside, FIFA 11 appears to be shaping up nicely, but whether the on-pitch tweaks will be enough to propel the series to the next level is still open to debate. One feature that could go a long way towards determining whether FIFA 11 offers adequate nuances is a new game mode called Career Mode.
"When we looked at FIFA 10 and the management experience we decided it needed to be totally rewritten," reveals Rutter. "The hardcore seemed pretty disappointed with last year's mode. So we've ripped out the Be a Pro and Manager Mode features and replaced them with a Career mode.
"You can now be a player, manager or player-manager and play through 15 seasons. We've made a lot of changes, including a two tier transfer system that involves negotiations with players as well as teams. Team management has been improved, especially player comparisons.
"You can also see the results in leagues other than your own. We want you to feel as though there's a whole world of football going on around you, like other European leagues running simultaneously to yours, so the whole world feels more alive."
According to Rutter, there's a renewed focus on feedback and scheduling. "We've incorporated a ton of feedback from Be a Pro, like taking out the endless reserve games and receiving inappropriate feedback on your performance," he explains.
"We had significant problems with our scheduling system in FIFA 10, which meant you had to play multiple games on the same day. We've also improved the transfer system. It's no longer the case where you can get the likes of Ronaldo to sign for Luton."
If Rutter and co can deliver on these promises and create a truly dynamic player career mode replete with transfers, international call-ups and the pitfalls of fame, this new Career mode could blow away everything that's come before. Here's hoping.
With the addition of improved passing and player AI, coupled with a promising sounding new Career mode, FIFA 11 is certainly on course to be another positive step forward for the series. But with PES looking as though it could pose a stiffer challenge than in recent years, only time will tell if FIFA 11 is of a high enough quality to see off its nearest rival and keep the series sitting pretty at the summit of that seemingly all-important Metacritic league.