England’s five memorable qualifiers

England might well breeze through tonight’s crucial qualifier at home against Poland, but the Three Lions have made a habit of leaving it late in qualifying campaigns.

So late, in fact, that nine of their last 12 qualifying campaigns for either World Cups or European Championships have gone down to the wire.

Here’s five memorable deciders…

1) October 6, 2001 (Old Trafford) England vs Greece 2-2

Arguably the greatest and more dramatic finale to an England qualifying campaign bar none.

Playing against a Greek side with nothing to play for and arriving into the decider on the back of a memorable 5-1 in Munich against Germany, England simply needed to match Germany’s result but Sven Goran Eriksson’s men almost conspired to throw it all away.

Angelos Charisteas put Greece in front as the Three Lions – missing Michael Owen, David Seaman and Sol Campbell – struggled to produce any meaningful chances, before substitute Teddy Sheringham headed them level.

The joy was short-lived as Themis Nikolaidis put the visitors in front again, the situation made even more frustrating as news that Finland had done the unthinkable by holding Germany to a draw in Gelsenkirchen.

With the clock ticking injury time, England won a free-kick. Up stepped captain David Beckham, in front of his beloved Stretford End – England played across the country while Wembley was being rebuilt – the rest, as they say, it’s history.

2) October 11, 1997 (Rome) Italy vs England 0-0

England entered their final game of their qualifying campaign needing a draw against the side that had conquered Wembley a couple of months earlier.

Despite the absence of Alan Shearer, England produced the sort of diligent and tactical astute performance that many had dreamt of before the game and many are still dreaming about 16 years on from then.

Paul Ince nullified Gianfranco Zola – the England midfielder played with a heavy bandage to his head while his shirt was stained in blood prompting Paul Gascoigne to describe him as a “pint of Guinness” – and despite Ian Wright’s miss, England had the draw and the point they needed.

3) October 11, 2003 (Istanbul) Turkey vs England 0-0

As far as preparation goes, England’s approach to this crucial qualifier could have hardly been worse.

As Rio Ferdinand was banned for nine months for missing a drug test, many England players threatened to go on striker, before captain David Beckham brokered a truce between the parties and England took to the Istanbul cauldron.

The typically hostile atmosphere generated by Turkish fans was made even tenser by the FA’s decision to ban England fans from travelling to Istanbul, while Sven Goran Eriksson had problems of his own as Michael Owen was forced to miss out.

Beckham skied a penalty over the bar – a habit he’d repeat against France and Portugal at Euro 2004 – but a 0-0 draw was enough to get England over the line and on the plane to Portugal.

4) November 11, 1987 (Belgrade) Yugoslavia vs England 1-4 

England’s trip to Belgrade was a final more than a qualifier, with both teams stepping onto the pitch knowing that the winner would go to West Germany to contest the 1988 European Championship.

Facing a Yugoslavia side packed with talent, England shocked many, including themselves, by racing into a 3-0 lead within the first 17 minutes courtesy of goals from Peter Beardsley, John Barnes and Bryan Robson.

Tony Adams opened his England account by adding his team’s fourth just before the half hour mark, sending Bobby Robson’s men to West Germany among the favourites.

A tag which, needless to say, they did not live up to.

5) November 13, 1991 (Poznan) Poland vs England 1-1

England seem to have matured a habit of playing Poland in crucial qualifiers, with this clash coming two years later a 0-0 draw in Katowice that had ensured England a ticket to the 1990 World Cup.

With Bobby Robson gone, Graham Taylor sat in the England dugout and his decision to opt for a midfield comprising Geoff Thomas, Andy Sinton and Andy Gray looked to have massively backfired as Gary Mabbutt deflected Roman Szewczyk’s shot through his own net.

With 78 minutes gone, Mabbutt turned from villain to assist-man, nodding David Rocastle’s free-kick into the path of Gary Lineker who pounced on the ball and netted from close range to send England to Euro 1992.

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