It’s hoped you’ll forgive this writer for not waving my England flag around like a loon, displaying the sort of over-confidence that makes Christiano Ronaldo look like Kenny Dalglish, but there does remain a chance that England won’t automatically qualify for the World Cup next year.
October 14th, 2013
Mathematically, two teams from three from Group H are looking to advance from the group. Although playing Devil’s Advocate even I won’t be tempted to permute that San Marino will be victorious in their final game against Ukraine. Assuming Ukraine will pick up the three points away, it’s down to England to secure three points of their own when Poland visits Wembley tomorrow night. A win here leaves the result of the Ukraine-San Marino clash to be moot.
As The Guardian points out, being down to a one-off game does not suit the team at all well. Despite avoiding defeat in nine previous qualifiers, it’d been expected that qualification would be secured by now; long before the nails are lined up below the mouth to be bitten off over ninety minutes tomorrow evening. The overriding memory of the 1998 qualification campaign is not the seven goals they stuck in against Moldova over two matches, or even the two wins they picked up against – wait for it – Poland; it’s the final 0-0 grind of a game in Rome which secured top spot, the ‘gritty’ performance we’ve now come to expect from the Three Lions. The enduring image from that match? A bandaged Paul Ince, shirt stained with blood, pointing at something. He’s no Terry Butcher (nor even a Paddy Kisnorbo) but that’s the game people will remember most of all about Ince. Imagine the same fate befalling a young Leighton Baines or Andros Townsend; hardly iconic is it?
This task is (again) arguably much harder than the one that England side faced in October ‘97; arguably they’re already two points off the top spot with one to play. England only had to not lose to Italy in Rome; tomorrow night they must win. If not then they’ll be in the play-offs; imagine what that will do to those nails of yours.