They are not quite somewhere in the Sahara desert, but England can feel they are halfway to South Africa. Four games have brought four wins and a further 12 points should ensure a place in the World Cup in 2010. There is margin for error now and, as such a demanding a taskmaster as Fabio Capello will know, room for improvement as well.
Yet some problems persist. Possession was conceded too easily in the first half in Minsk, when the side who mustered a 23-pass move was Belarus. Especially when Joe Cole is absent, England can lack balance on the left flank, and the fact that Gerrard, Rooney, Emile Heskey, Gareth Barry, Shaun Wright-Phillips and Stewart Downing have all taken turns there is indicative of a continuing search for a preferred option. And England's players, with a recent tendency towards complacency, seem to require some presumably forceful rhetoric from Capello to liven them up for the second half.
Indeed, the manager's capacity to alter games makes him the greatest influence in England's start so far. In three of the four competitive games, Capello's side have been subject to a rethink. Such decisiveness has paid dividends: 12 of England's 14 goals have come after the interval. The introduction of Joe Cole and Heskey enabled them to defeat Andorra. The arrival of Wright-Phillips in place of Barry transformed the game against Kazakhstan. Shifting Gerrard from his less favoured left flank made England altogether more impressive in Belarus and ended the home side's numerical superiority in the centre of the pitch.
That all suggests an analytical brain and a boldness to implement change immediately. Compared to a club manager, international bosses are not paid to do much, but it is imperative that each choice is correct. And when Capello changes his opinion, it is a display of strength. Revising his view of David Beckham, when at Real Madrid, is a prime example of that, even though there is a case for suggesting his judgment of the former captain should be amended again.
Wright-Phillips, who scored in the Italian's first game, lost his place in the squad when he lost his way at Chelsea and has been recalled upon his renaissance at Manchester City. If the link between form and selection has been restored, is welcome. The England team was a closed shop, and if that is shut during a recession, it is as well.
It means a regimented approach to discipline is accompanied by tactical flexibility and greater footballing thought. Rio Ferdinand's belated critique of the WAGs suggested Capello has introduced a new and overdue era of austerity off the pitch. Indeed, it is tempting to wonder if the Italian looks especially fondly on players such as Heskey and Wes Brown who, at either end, eschew the flashy in favour of the effective.
A preference for the experienced and the battle-hardened is a very Italian trait, but so is the reverence accorded to the No. 10.
Gerrard was Capello's initial choice for the shirt that has greater status in his homeland than almost anywhere else. He appeared uncomfortable with that billing whereas Rooney is looking altogether happier. Indeed, Gerrard's Scouse alliance with Rooney is operating rather better than his midfield axis with Lampard.
It is a reminder that, apart from the occasional magical display, such as in Zagreb, England are not always the sum of their considerable parts.
It is a habit England mislaid during Steve McClaren's gruesome reign. If needless losses have been discarded along with cloying references to "Stevie G, JT and Lamps", that is a pleasing development.
So are the results. England are rediscovering the knack of winning games they are expected to win, and Capello is the second generously remunerated import to excel in qualifying. Sven-Goran Eriksson could not realise expectations beyond that but whereas the Swede's team seemed set in stone, Capello's appears to be amended every 45 minutes. That, at least, represents a warning to the underperforming and a continual quest for improvement.
Given the stereotypes about Italian defending, the concession of a goal each to Kazakhstan and Belarus presumably disappoints. Scoring 14 goals in four games is more encouraging, but this is a manager who is unlikely to get carried away. The realist in Capello knows England can play better.
The perfectionist in him will go about ensuring they do.