Written by Daniel Baker
It is more than 12 years to the day since David Beckham curled a superb free kick into the net at Old Trafford against Greece to secure a World Cup place for England.
Now Roy Hodgson’s side face a similar scenario. Only victories against Montenegro on Friday and Poland on Tuesday will see them on the plane to Brazil next summer.
England tops the group with four wins and four draws but do not be fooled by that record. Their only victories came against Moldova and San Marino, both twice.
While travelling to any other of their opponents is tricky, being able to beat teams with credibility is key to any success they desire in Brazil next summer should they qualify.
But how should England approach the two games?
In both games, set pieces will be key. England has scored goals from them against France, Sweden and Scotland in the last eighteen months so it has become a habit. There are enough players with aerial ability in the squad to have some effect from them.
England must also learn from previous matches. They buckled in Podgorica in March and spent most of the second half defending and they conceded a late equaliser. However, the Wembley crowd is the bonus for them this time.
Montenegro should play an attacking game. Strikers Stefan Jovetic and Mirko Vucinic are available as is Dejan Damjanovic, who has scored three goals in qualifying so far. All of Montenegro’s previous goals against England have stemmed from crosses so that is likely to be what they will do. As a result, England must close down the flanks on the night.
Wayne Rooney was probably the best performer last time and will need to show authority. The wide players for England were crucial in 2011 so their best bet is to use patient build up play to feed the strikers or for the wide men to provide crosses. Leighton Baines must strike the right balance of defence and attack at left back too.
England’s performance against Poland last October drew criticism and it could be argued they were fortunate then too. However, they have only lost to Poland once and ironically it contributed to them not making the 1974 World Cup.
Like Montenegro, Poland are a good attacking team. Both Jakub Blaszczykowski and Robert Lewandowski will pose a real threat and the team will capitalise on errors. After all, Poland’s equaliser last year owed much to a Joe Hart blunder.
Poland should line up in the same way with Lewandowski up front so one of the centre backs must focus on him. Blaszczykowski’s ability from range might well be a worry to Joe Hart, who is still under some scrutiny.
If they both start, full backs Sebastian Boenisch and Lukasz Piszczek are going to be the strongest in defence; so playing down the flanks is likely to be trickier. Overall, a good attacking approach and staying cool in defence stands them in good stead.
Written by Liam Ray
The most crucial of periods awaits the English national team over the coming days as Roy Hodgson’s men face must-win World Cup Qualifiers against Montenegro and Poland in order to qualify for Brazil 2014. Recent performances have seen the team come under criticism from some pundits and fans but despite that, England find themselves a point clear at the top of Group H and in pole position to qualify.
The main area of scrutiny within the England ranks has been the form of keeper Joe Hart who has performed well below par in countless games for Manchester City this season including their recent Champions League defeat against Bayern Munich. Hodgson has vowed to stick with Hart over the next two games, which is a wise and understandable decision considering that England have only lost twice out of the 35 times Hart has played. It’s also essential that his confidence is not docked any further because he is clearly one of England’s brightest talents.
Strong and commanding performances from Hart are vital if England are to succeed and reach the World Cup in 2014. But there’s no underestimating the threat that both Montenegro and Poland pose to England’s chances of qualification. Both sides proved difficult opponents to the Three Lions in the reverse fixtures earlier on in the campaign, despite England coming away from Warsaw and Podgorica with respectable draws in each game.
Montenegro are a national side whose rapid rise up the FIFA rankings over the past years has been down to their production of creative attacking players like Mirko Vucinic and Stevan Jovetic. Both are likely to start on Friday and it’s crucial that Hodgson selects the right defensive line up to deal with their offensive threat. Poland, meanwhile, also have plenty of lethal attacking options at their disposal including Borussia Dortmund talisman Robert Lewandowski who has been in red hot form his club side over the past few seasons. His agreed move to Bayern Munich is testament to his attacking prowess and goal scoring ability.
If Hodgson follows his defensive mindset, it could be a very nervy few days for England fans. However, he welcomes back several key forwards including Wayne Rooney and Daniel Sturridge who missed the previous draw against Ukraine and Hodgson will hope that these players add the necessary spark that sees England prevail and qualify for Brazil 2014.Tweet