The draw has been made for World Cup 2018 and on paper it looks like England have been handed a favourable set of fixtures.
The Three Lions will face old foes Scotland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Lithuania and Malta in Group F, not exactly the most daunting set of fixtures.
The fixture that will stand out for a lot of people is the games against old foes Scotland. The fixture is one of the oldest in the history of football and it is sure to be a feisty affair.
It is also sure to draw all sorts of analogies about Braveheart and Ye Olde battles.
The truth is though England have a good record against their neighbours and the Three Lions prevailed 3-1 against their bitter-rivals at Celtic Park in a friendly in November. The two neighbours have not met competitively since 1999 though, when England won 2-1 on aggregate in a play-off to make it to Euro 2000.
As top seeds England avoided some difficult challenges, as both France and Italy were amongst the second seeds in the draw. The two European heavyweights may not be experiencing the best of times in recent years, but they still would have been a bigger danger to qualification than Slovakia who are second seeds in the group.
Slovakia are currently 15th in the world rankings and have some highly-rated players in their squad. However they are unlikely to strike fear into the hearts of anybody associated with England and the Three Lions will be expected to overcome them.
The Slovaks are likely to be the Three Lions main challengers for the one automatic qualification berth in the group. However Scotland have been much improved under the guidance of Gordon Strachan, so they two could be challenging for that top spot as well.
The likes of Slovenia, Malta and Lithuania are relative minnows in the world game. Slovenia did make it to the European Championships in 2000 and the World Cup in 2010. Those are the only two appearances they have ever made at major tournaments, although they have a good excuse in the fact that they only started playing as an independent nation in 1992.
Lithuania and Malta have never made it to a major competition in the history of their national teams. That looks unlikely to change this time around with the other teams seeing them as the rank outsiders of the group.
In the grand scheme of things it is uncertain where England fit-in. The Three Lions can no longer call themselves a giant of the game, but they are not a minnow either. They usually qualify for major tournaments relatively comfortably.
They usually sauntered through the qualification phase against weaker opposition only to struggle when they come up against any decent team they face at a major competition. At World Cup 2014 Roy Hodgson’s team failed to get out of their group, despite their usual comfortable qualification.
This has become a bad habit for England. They are now flat-track bullies who can see off the smaller nations, but when faced with a decent opposition suddenly become incapable of even passing the ball to each other and they usually head home early from major tournaments.
Hodgson has made a number of changes to the England side since the 2014 debacle and the Three Lions have some promising players coming through, who only enjoyed cameos at the World Cup, or were not involved at all in Brazil.
They say it is the hope that kills you and being an England fan fits that saying perfectly. Every major competition England fans are hyped-up to believe that their team can truly challenge at the top table of international football.
In true football style though, they are usually disappointed and in 2014’s case bemused by their team’s performances at major tournaments.
As usual England will probably qualify for the World Cup and as usual they will spectacularly underachieve, or even worse go out in the knockout stages against a decent team which is probably the more likely occurrence.
Will England qualify for World Cup 2018 in a comfortable manner?
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