England Look Set to Complete Final Stretch of World Cup Qualifying in Style

England will be under the microscope for the next week, with Roy Hodgson’s squad set to be firmly tested as they look to secure their place in the World Cup finals in Brazil next year. Last time out they secured four points in two qualifying matches against Moldova and Ukraine. The 0-0 draw in Ukraine was scrutinized, most notably by former England striker Gary Lineker, who was highly critical of England’s defensive approach. The criticism was perhaps harsh as the importance of getting some sort of result far outweighed the need for a win. It was a game that England could not afford to lose.

In the next two qualifying games England have vowed to go all out attack folowing the news that Leighton Baines will replace regular left back Ashley Cole in the lineup due to a rib injury Cole picked up in Chelsea’s recent win at Norwich. Former England international, Luther Blissett,emphasized the need for England to go out on the attack, telling TalkSport:

“I think you go for it all guns blazing with players in form, players on top of their game at the moment and who look like they’re hungry for goals and are ready to score goals.”

The England camp is in a buoyant mood ahead of the qualifiers, with Liverpool’s Daniel Sturridge confident he can replicate his club from for his country, saying: “I feel I’m in the form of my life and hope to give the England boss a selection problem.” The 24-year-old has scored seven goals in six games, and has recently rekindled his partnership with Luis Suarez. Last time, England missed Sturridge dearly, particularly in Ukraine where England were forced to play Rickie Lambert up front on his own. The return of Daniel Sturridge will obviously leave Roy Hodgson with more room to attack. The likeliness of a display similar to that of played in Ukraine is slim. England captain Steven Gerrard has acknowledged that the Poland and Montenegro games will be a challenge, but feels England will have enough to overcome them:

“Every opposition will have their tricky players and Montengero and Poland with have their match winners as well, but we will have the better match winners – I tell you that!”

Montenegro

Montenegro will be without their big names for the game at Wembley; Mirko Vucinic of Juventus will be missing as well as goalkeeper Mladen Bozovic, defender Marko Basa, and midfielder Miodrag Pekoivc. Manchester City’s Stevan Jovetic is also a doubt for the game, but despite this, defender Miodrag Dzudovic believes his side can upset England: “The most important thing will be to keep a clean sheet and I am sure our forwards will find a way through. With the right attitude and enough self-belief, we can finish in the top two and reach the play-offs.”

Montenegro coach Branko Brnovic has again echoed the need for belief in the Montenegro camp: “We will certainly try to play the best we can but we have a belief in ourselves and a belief that we can do it.” A performance similar to that of their gutsy draw against England in Euro 2012 qualifying wouldn’t go amiss for the visitors on Friday evening.

Poland

Poland still have slim chance of qualifying for the World Cup, who will need to win in both Ukraine and England and then hope for results elsewhere. It may seem a long shot, but arguably it should be achievable. Their strike-force of Robert Lewandowski and Artur Sobiech have scored a combined eight Bundesliga goals thus far, with both enjoying decent starts at their respective clubs. Poland have not beaten England since 1973, when they knocked England out of qualifying for the 1974 World Cup. If Poland get a result next Tuesday, expect there to be rants harking back to the two qualifiers from 40 years ago.

Previous Qualifying Games

England 5-1 Croatia (World Cup 2010 Qualifying) – A double from both Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard and a goal from Wayne Rooney, secured England’s place in South Africa after a near perfect qualifying campaign. Wayne Rooney described it as an ‘amazing feeling’ to qualify for another World Cup following the way he had left the 2006 World Cup in shame.

England 2-3 Croatia (Euro 2008 Qualifying) – No one will forget that faithful day on the rain-sodden pitch at Wembley when Scott Carson forgot the art of goalkeeping and spilled Portsmouth midfielder Niko Kranjcar’s strike into his own net. England did manage to pull themselves level from 2-0 down, but Mladen Petric broke England’s hearts with a late goal to win the game for Croatia.

England 2-2 Greece (World Cup 2002 Qualifying) –  With Steven Gerrard jokingly suggesting that Leighton Baines will step up if England have a free-kick, it had me thinking back to the 2-2 draw with Greece at Old Trafford that secured England’s place in the 2002 World Cup. With seconds left, the inspirational captain stepped up to curl the ball past a stationary Antonios Nikopolidis to send England to the World Cup automatically. England may need a hero like Beckham if the going gets tough next Tuesday.

San Marino 1-7 England (World Cup 1994 Qualifying) – England may have won 7-1, but it was San Marino’s goal and England’s failure to qualify that was most documented. Davide Gualtieri, who now works as a computer sales man, opened the scoring in the first minute to show England up for what they really were under Graham Taylor. Taylor has admitted in the light of the upcoming games that he will take England’s failure to qualify for the 1994 World Cup to the grave with him.

England 1-1 Poland (World Cup 1974 Qualifying) – England were left frustrated by Jan Tomaszewski who denied them on several occasions to earn Poland a very creditable draw at Wembley. Poland went to reach the Semi Finals of the 1974 World Cup, with football writer Brian Glanville claiming it was no shame to be knocked out by the Poles: “In retrospect, to be eliminated by a side so fine a side as Poland seems no disgrace.”

England should scrape through now that they have some of their better players back such as Daniel Sturridge and Wayne Rooney, which gives them an edge in an attacking sense. The challenges of Montenegro and Poland have simmered down to some degree, and the formerly injury-crippled England should have enough to overcome them. While Poland have never got going in the qualifying, a home win seems the only thing likely. The games won’t be easy, but England will get through them unscathed.