England can’t be worried by the likes of Montenegro and Poland

“England expects”, “We will not let you down” roar some of today’s backpages, ahead of the first of England’s crucial last two qualifiers against Montenegro and Poland.

Given the excitement and the expectations that have surrounded the game against Montenegro for weeks now, one would be forgiven for thinking that tonight England will contest the World Cup itself, rather than merely seeking to take another step towards securing their spot in Brazil next summer.

It goes without saying that the first step towards winning the World Cup is ensuring to be among the 32 teams contesting it, but the build-up surrounding England’s final two qualifiers has been nothing short of ludicrous.

England are as big a contradiction as international football has seen in ages. A team desperate to make the World Cup, yet worried by facing teams that are ranked 27th and 65th in the FIFA World Ranking Table.

With all due respect to Montenegro and Poland, despite their qualities and some standout players, neither team would represent much of a problem for the favourites to lift the World Cup next summer.

The diffidence with which England are treating their last two games could perhaps be a little bit more understandable were Roy Hodgson’s men set to play either or both games away from Wembley in hostile environments, but both of England remaining fixtures are at home, an ideal position, theoretically at least, to be in.

Yet both sides are being treated like a huge stumbling block on the road to Brazil, an unspoken, perhaps unconscious, admission that England are clearly not going to Brazil with credible chances of success.

Perhaps the tentative approach derives from England’s history of spectacular failures at this stage, with fiascos against Croatia in 2007, Holland in 1993 and Poland in 1973 being wheeled out with impeccable timing to remind everybody that, you know, England have done their own bit of crumbling in the past.

The reason for England’s nerves, however, runs deeper. Deeper than Roy Hodgson’s conservative approach, deeper than the influx of foreign players that has crippled the national game and deeper than the lack of a world class midfield.

Like students poised to sit a test for which they haven’t thoroughly prepared, England are aware of their limits, and know they’re not good enough to win the World Cup.

They do not possess the technique Spain and Brazil can count on, nor they can call upon a player of the calibre of Lionel Messi like Argentina can do and they do not possess the same depth and quality available to Germany.

Roy Hodgson does a fine job of setting his team out not to lose, but England aren’t as mentally as solid as Italy, nor do they have the same creativity – always prone to self-destruction, it has to be said – of the likes of France and Holland.

In fact, at times, they look like they don’t even possess a plan, which explains why games against the likes of Montenegro and Poland are treated like crucial fixtures, rather than the routine duties they should be.

Granted, England might win score 10 goals and concede nil between tonight and Tuesday, but until teams that represent the mid-table of European football will continue to be an entity to be afraid of, England will only make up the numbers at the World Cup. 


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