Last night’s European qualifiers for World Cup 2014 gave a reminder to some of the heavyweights of the European game that there is no longer an easy game in football.
The likes of Italy, Germany and even Spain struggled for victories against so called ‘inferior opposition’.
England couldn’t even muster a victory against a vastly underestimated Ukraine team. Could the European big boys be too complacent against these perceived lesser teams?
Germany, Spain, Italy and England will be regarded as teams expected to qualify for the World Cup with ease, although Spain will have to come up against France in their group. Los Rojas will still be expected top their group, France or no France.
They are world and European champions; they should be topping any group. However, they struggled to beat minnows Georgia and it took a late effort from Valencia striker Roberto Soldado to secure a 1-0 victory.
Germany secured a narrow 2-1 win against Austria, admittedly tougher opponents than Georgia. In truth Austria were probably unlucky to have come out of the game with nothing, after the visitors rode their luck.
Italy beat Malta 2-0 in Rome, but were than impressive. The Azzurri only secured three points with an injury-time strike through Federico Peluso. Boss Cesare Prandelli will be concerned that his team is not playing well enough at the moment.
England just never really got going against the Ukraine. The visitors looked dangerous going forward and scored a wonder goal through winger Yevhen Konoplyanka. England may have been missing some first team regulars, but there was no excuse for the lack of penetration and ideas on display.
I suppose the likes of Spain, Germany and England can say their teams had off-nights. However, Italy has now produced three poor performances since their Euro 2012 final defeat to Spain. They have lost to England, drew with Bulgaria and only narrowly defeated Malta.
Azzurri boss Cesare Prandelli asked for a better performance from his team in the Malta game, after their poor display in Sofia. Unfortunately he didn’t really get it. Italy has far tougher games to come with the likes of the Czech Republic and Denmark in their qualifying group.
Should Italy perform poorly against these teams they are likely to be punished. The Danes and Czechs are just waiting for Prandelli’s charges to slip-up so they can gain headway in the group.
Whenever there is a qualifying campaign for a major competition there is usually a shock team that doesn’t qualify. England has been in that particular situation before and it really isn’t nice for fans, although it does stop the disappointment of exiting a competition at the quarter-finals.
I have no doubt that most of the major European nations will qualify for World 2014. They may not have all made great starts to their campaigns, but none of them have made terrible starts either.
The bigger football countries of the continent need to use these poor performances as wake-up calls. They need to realise that there are very few easy games in European qualifying nowadays and produce better performances.
The smaller nations maybe improving, but the European heavyweights have to realise that they have no right just to go out onto the pitch and expect to win, no matter who they are.
It is very early in the qualifiers for World Cup 2014 and qualification can often be a very bumpy road. However, I expect to see the likes of Germany, Spain and Italy at World Cup 2014 challenging the home nation for the title of world champions.
Are the European heavyweights complacent when it comes to playing the smaller nations?