England face a double header of vital World Cup qualifiers in the next five days that will decide whether the Three Lions will be at next year’s World Cup finals in Brazil.
The Three Lions face home games against Montenegro and Poland at Wembley on Friday and Tuesday respectively.
The group is tight with both Montenegro and Ukraine just a point behind Roy Hodgson men in the table and Poland just a one point further behind.
The scenario is simple for England though, gain two wins and they win the group. May sound simple in theory, but maybe be slightly harder in practice.
England have only ever faced Montenegro on three occasions and on every meeting the country from the Balkans has made it difficult for them. All three of the games have finished in a draws, including a goalless draw the last time the Montenegrins came to Wembley in qualifying for Euro 2012.
They certainly will not make it easy for England. The likes of Manchester City’s Stevan Jovetic and Juventus’ Mirko Vucinic are like to cause the England backline problems. Jovetic has recently stated that it will be England under-pressure and not his team, and he is right.
England’s last opponents in the group Poland still technically have a chance of getting top spot, but they would need results to go their way. It looks very unlikely that the Poles will make it easy for the Three Lions either.
The majority of the first choice Poland team play their football in leagues such as the Bundesliga and there is quality within their ranks. Poland have caused England problems in the past in qualification campaigns and could repeat the trick on Tuesday night.
When the qualifying group was announced, the English media already had England cruising through the group. However, in typically English style Roy Hodgson’s side have made it hard for themselves. The likes of Poland, Ukraine and Montenegro are middling opponents on the face of it.
There is some quality within the ranks of those teams and they are dangerous sides. However, most top European countries would expect to defeat them. I think it would be a stretch to consider England as a top European country, but they are top seeds in the group.
England have now dropped into 17th position in the FIFA World Ranking. At one stage of qualifying England were as high as fourth in the rankings. Unconvincing performances and results have led to the drop in position.
England have taken over the mantle of international underachievers from Spain, after the Spaniards recent domination of international football. England is a football mad country, but the countries football organisational structure is poor.
New FA chairman Greg Dyke is currently trying to put in place a commission to decide the best way to develop English footballers in the future. As I stated in yesterday’s article English coaches are not good enough to develop world-class players.
That should be the first point of call for any investigation into why the England national team has declined in recent years. Every new chairman comes into the job with bright ideas, but none of them seem to make a difference to how the national team performs.
I am not holding my breath on Dyke and his new regime being successful at succeeding where others have failed.
Despite criticisms of the England national team in recent years, there are still enough good players within the squad to make an impact on international football. The Three Lions have a decent mix of experience and promise within the squad.
The introduction of the likes of in-form Liverpool striker Daniel Sturridge and Everton teenager Ross Barkley into the squad are exciting ones. Sturridge withdrew from the last England squad with an injury, while Barkley recently made his debut for the senior national side.
The pair have been two of the outstanding performers in the top-flight. Barkley is considered one of the most talented players of his generation and has impressed at junior levels of international football.
Sturridge will most likely be handed a start against Montenegro, while Barkley is likely to only be on the bench. Both players will be good additions to an England squad that already contains a decent mix of youth and experience.
England usually qualifies for major tournaments with relative ease, then disappoint at the actual tournaments. However, this time around the Three Lions have made it difficult for themselves in qualifying. I expect Hodgson’s men to complete the job and qualify for next year’s World Cup in Brazil, although it is unlikely to be easy.
If England does qualify for the World Cup between now and June next year the England boss will have to find answers to a lot of questions. Those answers will have to come quickly if the Three Lions are going to have any impact at the World Cup.
If those answers are not found then England fans could be in for yet more disappointment at a major tournament, a now familiar feeling for fans of the Three Lions.
England are 4-1 favourites to defeat Montenegro, but a draw is also 4-1, while the visitors are 10/1 to claim victory. Considering the history of this fixture I would say the draw is not a bad bet at all.
Will England qualify for next year’s World Cup?