Having suffered the heart break of not reaching Euro 2008 perhaps now, as we gear up for the new season would be an interesting time to look at England’s World Cup qualifying schedule. With just less than seven weeks to go before England start their campaign against Andorra we can begin the build up to whether we are set for another summer picking teams out of a hat to support of it we will be there in South Africa taking it to the world’s best.
This might seem like a strange time to look at England with the last international competition well behind us and many people focusing on how their clubs will do when they start again in August (head here for all the footballs odds for the new domestic season). However I for one am looking forward to this campaign and believe that this will be a very crucial time in English football. When it starts in September the following 15 months will show us if Fabio Capello can turn a bunch of rich individuals with plenty of potential into a functioning team that we can be proud of.
Last time we started a qualifying campaign there was a sense that we would walk the group, that the likes of Russia and Croatia could not match our band of Premier League stars. Despite having the incompetent Steve McClaren in charge people still expected to make it to Euro 2008. However I think people who knew football realised that it wouldn’t be that easy and so they were proved right that fateful night at Wembley when England fell flat on their face. To be fair we can’t just put it down to one night, it was a collection of performances that let everyone down, England at their overrated best.
This time though people are prepared, you could see when the fixtures were announced that England supporters took things seriously for once. I remember listening to Radio Five Live and hearing the pundits sucking air through their teeth at the prospect of Belarus away. That is unheard of in a country where many people are still ignorant enough to believe that we have a god given right to be the best at football. This time though I think people are more realistic and seem to be taking it seriously from the start. For a start we have a proper manager in charge, I will go out on a limb here and give my 100% backing to Capello not matter what happens, not that he would be devastated if I dindn’t! The guy has a proven track record and his guidelines he set out when he took over are what the spoilt brats at England needed. I don’t know whether you read the Football 365 England diary they did whilst Euro 2008 was on but I encourage you to read it if you want true mickey taking of the national side. Here is the last chapter.
Lets move on and take a glance at the fixtures for the qualifying campaign ahead:
6th September – Andorra (A)
10th September – Croatia (A)
11th October – Kazakhstan (H)
15th October – Belarus (A)
1st April – Ukraine (H)
6th June – Kazakhstan (A)
10th June – Andorra (H)
9th September – Croatia (H)
10th October – Ukraine (A)
14th October – Belarus (H)
So looking at that I think it could have been a lot worse, you would hope that by the end of the Belarus game away England would have something in the region of 9 to 10 points. Andorra away should be a walkover but then will come the real first test for Capello, a trip to Zagreb. Croatia made England look foolish last time they played there and who would beat against them doing it again after their impressive performances in Euro 2008. Kazakhstan at home you would think haboured another three points followed by Belarus away. Another tricky away trip but one that I hope England will manage to take three points from if Fabio has them organised properly.
So around nine or ten points at that period would be a decent total heading into the new year and the first game against the Ukraine who are one of those sides who aren’t brilliant on their travels so I would hope the England would take three points from that one. This could be the first time that we see a clash between club and country because with the game beginning in April and the domestic season coming to a close a lot of the clubs won’t want to see their players pick up an injury. Be interesting to see if anyone drops out with an injury they might have played through if this was a club game.
Then we are on to Kazakhstan, the furthest trip England could have been given and to a country who should really be classed in the Asian qualifying sector. Anyway at the end of a long season this will be the last thing the players will want and Capello will really have to get them up for that one because otherwise England could be rolled over. Andorra at home and another three points before the big one. The return of Croatia to Wembley will probably decide the group with both teams probably on the same points at this point. Much like the away game I am going to sit on the fence and hope for a draw.
That result will leave England needing something in the Ukraine, reminiscent of the trip to Russia for the Euro 2008 qualifying campaign. I would guess that Ukraine will be the third team in this group and a defeat here would put a lot of pressure on England going into the final game against Belarus. Ukraine face Andorra in their final group game and England could be facing déjà vu if they don’t get something in the former Soviet state. A draw would be nice although either way I can see England turning over Belarus in their last game.
So that’s it, England have qualified! Fabio is hailed as a hero and we can begin all the build-up to the finals. Well that will be the dream at least but with some tough away fixtures to come England will have to be prepared for the coming tasks. Anyway don’t forget about England if you support them and join in the excitement when they start against Andorra in September. To have an early flutter on the game here are the England odds.