Roy Hodgson may have been slightly concerned to see Jack Wilshere making the headlines over the last few days as the Arsenal midfielder made his views crystal clear about potential foreign born players pulling on the England shirt, but whilst all this was going on and filling up the column inches it has allowed Hodgson to stay out of the limelight and try to mastermind England’s qualification for the 2014 World Cup and his quest will start at Wembley against Montenegro on Friday night.
The Three Lions sit pretty at the top of Group H and know that a win on Friday over Montenegro and again on Tuesday against Poland will book their place in Brazil next summer, but fans will still step into the matches with trepidation and just be praying that Hodgson can be the architect of the six points that guarantee England will on the plane to South America next Summer.
England have been in these situations in previous qualifying campaigns, most recently in 2007 when a win against Croatia was all that was needed to reach Euro 2008 but a wet night at Wembley, an umbrella and Steve McClaren in the dugout should act as a reminder to all fans of the national team that nothing is straight forward…
On paper, home ties against Montenegro and Poland should prove comfortable victories, but England have never done things the easy way and there will no doubt be a sense of nervousness echoing round Wembley when the sides come out to do battle in a contest that England are hot favourites to pick up the three points.
A perfect scenario will see England dispatch of Montenegro and Poland beat Ukraine in another Group H tie and Hodgson’s men would for all intents and purposes have secured their World Cup place as their vastly superior goal difference would see them top the group, even if they were to suffer defeat against Poland on Tuesday night.
However, Hodgson will be focussing fully on a Montenegro side that still have aspirations of making Brazil themselves and have only lost once in qualification and managed to draw with England 1-1 earlier in the campaign and will certainly not be a pushover for the Three Lions.
Ashley Cole will be missing for England, but the embarrassment of riches at left back will see Leighton Baines step in and this change shouldn’t weaken the side and with Wayne Rooney back in the starting line-up, they should be able to create a little more in the final third having struggled to manufacture chances in their forgettable goalless draw with Ukraine last month.
Rooney could be joined by Daniel Sturridge in attack following the Liverpool marksman’s flourishing form at Anfield this season and if the pair can fire on all cylinders then they could cause huge problems in the Montenegro rearguard.
Whilst England have very few injury concerns for the match, the visitors are sweating on the fitness of some key personnel and talismanic skipper Mirko Vucinic is set to miss the game, whilst a handful of defenders could be forced to stay on the sidelines and this can only help Hodgson’s side in picking up the crucial three points.
Joe Hart has come in for some scrutiny in recent weeks for his performance for Man City but the shot stopper has kept two clean sheets in his last two games for England and has only conceded three in the eight qualifying games, so will be confident of putting his domestic woes behind him for these two games.
On paper,England look the much stronger side and home advantage should help but at 4/11 to win this game with bookmakers, the odds do not reflect the task in hand and history tells us that England can struggle when under pressure. A Three Lions victory is predicted but fans should prepare themselves to sweat for it!