First it was a blood clot, then a broken jaw, but at last Gary Cahill can look forward to his first major international tournament with England. The 28-year-old centre-back has come a long way since the 2010 FIFA World Cup™, when his chances of making the squad were extinguished by a blood clot in his upper chest.

At that time Cahill was an outside bet, but when UEFA EURO 2012 came around two years later he was guaranteed a place in the squad until sustaining a double fracture of the jaw in a warm-up match against Belgium. Now, though, the 28-year-old centre-back is heading to the World Cup, having come through Saturday's 0-0 ill-tempered draw with Honduras unscathed, and it feels particularly special.

"It does, because it is my first tournament," Cahill said. "I have waited a long time to come and I was really excited previously. The World Cup before I was an outside shot of making the club and I had my blood clot. Then I was one game away and I broke my jaw - it was like, 'Is this not for me?'. So for me to be involved in this is massive.

"It's been good of late. Not that long ago I wasn't really in the frame or I was grafting to get in the squad and just be a part of it, but now I feel like I'm a big part of it, which is pleasing. It shows how far I have come and I am obviously really happy."

Cahill is not only part of the squad but an almost certain starter at centre-back alongside Phil Jagielka in the Group D opener against Italy on 14 June. Overcoming the four-time World Cup winners will be no mean feat for Roy Hodgson's men, given Italy have the likes of Gianluigi Buffon, Daniele De Rossi and Andrea Pirlo at their disposal.

I have waited a long time to come and I was really excited previously.

Gary Cahill, England defender on making his World Cup debut

Furthermore, the Azzurri will have former Manchester City man Mario Balotelli leading the attacking line. Balotelli is capable of everything from the sublime to the ridiculous, and Cahill said: "That's dangerous isn't it because you never know - will he turn up, will he not?

"He's got potential to stick it into the top corner from 30 yards. He's an unpredictable player but on his day obviously one of the best. I played against him a couple of times at City and he's been tough. I played against him another time when he came off after 60, 70 minutes. He is unpredictable. At times he can be world class. But he's certainly one to watch out for."

While at times erratic, Balotelli was one of the English Premier League's most exciting characters during his time at the Etihad Stadium. The league is set to lose another big character imminently, with David Luiz set to join Paris St Germain for a fee in the region of £40m. The Brazil international found starts hard to come by at Chelsea under Jose Mourinho last season, with his exit reflecting well on Cahill and the way he has impressed alongside John Terry in central defence.

"He is a fantastic player, good luck to him," Cahill added. "People don't pay that sort of money for average players, they pay that money for the top players and he is in that category."