In the span of four days, England will take on both Montenegro and Poland in two must-win World Cup qualifiers. The Three Lions currently sit on top of Group H albeit they are only a solitary point ahead of Ukraine and Montenegro who sit in second and third place, respectively and will need to win this match in order to put themselves in a better position to qualify directly out of the club.
England took a safety-first approach against Ukraine in the last World Cup qualifier they played in and came in for plenty of stick from the media. Manager Roy Hodgson defended his choice by saying England could not be expected to beat a Ukraine side away from home. However, there is no more room for error and Hodgson will have to go for the win in both the remaining matches or risk depending on others results’ to see England through. Worse still, they could miss out on qualification altogether, something that will surely cost him his job.
Hodgson has a fairly good side to choose from, with Liverpool striker Daniel Sturridge and Manchester United hitman Wayne Rooney both available for selection this time around. He also has experienced campaigners in Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard but is missing Ashley Cole, who was substituted during Chelsea’s win against Norwich after a knock to the ribs. Given the veteran defender’s mixed form of late, it’s safe to say he won’t be missed too much. His injury means that Everton defender Leighton Baines will probably start both games.
A lot will also be expected from Arsenal midfielder Jack Wilshere, who is currently in the midst of a fair bit of controversy. Not only was he caught smoking outside a nightclub in London, he kicked up a bit of a storm yesterday by claiming that only people born in England should be allowed to play for England. The young midfielder will be looking to put all this aside and do his best for England.
Even if the current English side don’t really have the squad to win the World Cup, it’s safe to say they should be able to at least qualify for the tournament. The truth is that they’ve made it a lot harder on themselves with Hodgson’s safety-first approach and now have it all to do in the final two games. Yes they still do have their fate in their own hands, but the fact of the matter is that England could have qualified out of this group a long time ago if Hodgson hadn’t chosen to go on the defensive against almost every ‘big’ side. Monetnegro are missing a few key players and should prove no trouble to beat but Poland won’t be an easy opponent, even if England have the home advantage.
The fact that English football is at an all-time low is common knowledge, but they are nowhere near as bad as some think. They can get the job done if Hodgson goes in to these games with a mind to win. Given that England have to win both these games, he’ll have no real choice in that matter. Should he choose to go safety-first, England will not make the World Cup. And he will lose his job.