ENGLAND – Ukraine on Our Parade
Frank Lampard brings England level in a disappointing match at Wembley.
As the Group H qualification draw was made, the hierarchy of English football would have uttered a slight chuckle and began checking Brazilian flight prices. Yet England still have a long, (and presumably frustrating) road to go down if they’re to qualify for their 14th World Cup tournament.
After a 5-0 demolition of minnows Moldova on Friday evening, England were quickly brought back down to earth by the visit of Euro 2012 hosts Ukraine to Wembley Stadium. An 87th minute penalty by Frank Lampard earned England a 1-1 draw and spared the Three Lions’ blushes after a lacklustre performance against a side rated 36 places below them in the FIFA World Rankings.
With games against much higher rated sides like Montenegro and Poland to come, England cannot afford to perform in the same unorganised vain as they did against Ukraine, or they simply will not qualify. The last time that happened in qualification for a major tournament, Euro 2008, the England manager was sacked, pilloried in the press, and banned from ever using an umbrella again.
In our recent Facebook poll, 84% of our followers believed that England would finish first in Group H and claim the only automatic qualification place for Brazil 2014. If Roy Hodgson can find the best England set up and raise his players to the big occasion of the matches then there’s no reason why they can’t qualify! Let’s hope for their sake that the bad performance of qualification is now out of the way!
SCOTLAND – Scots Turn To Boos
Macedonia celebrate deservedly going ahead at Hampden Park.
Two successive draws at home for Craig Levein’s Scotland side sent boos ringing out of Hampden Park on Tuesday night as the Tartan Army were held to a 1-1 draw against the lowly rated Macedonia. In a game largely dominated by the away side, Scotland showed the world why they haven’t been able to qualify for the World Cup since 1998, and it doesn’t look like 2014 is going to be their year of redemption based on this form.
With teams like Serbia, Croatia and Belgium to compete with, Scotland can ill-afford to slip up at home, particularly against supposed ‘weaker’ sides such as Macedonia. Serbia and Belgium have both proved their worth in the group, and stamped claims to qualify in the automatic position with emphatic victories against Wales – Serbia most recently thrashing the Welsh by six goals to one.
Home form was of crucial importance to Scotland. Having now dropped four points they are going to have to rely on away form – something that has proved unreliable in the past. The Scots have won just one away fixture since October 2011. So the cynics will be saying it is already over.
But anything can happen in football, and if Levein’s side can put a run of results together, and keep key players fit, then the Scots could still be looking forward to some painful sunburns in Brazil in 2014. But it might be supporting the Irish.
WALES – It Serbs You Right!
Wales' captain Aaron Ramsey looks dejected as he trudges off after the football lesson from Serbia.
Wales manager Chris Coleman said he was ‘embarrassed’ by his side as they slumped 6-1 to their worst defeat in 16 years at the hands on Serbia. A massive dent in their chances of World Cup qualification – but let’s face it, it was a long-shot anyway!
Drawn in the same group as Scotland, Wales will face stern test after stern test for World Cup qualification. And with two lifeless losses coming from their opening two matches, Wales’ chances of booking a place in Brazil and Gareth Bale’s chance at ever appearng at a major tournament are looking incredibly bleak.
But there is quality in the squad! With Bale, Aaron Ramsey, Steve Morison, Joe Allen and Craig Bellamy, Wales have a set up with heaps of Premier League class. If they can somehow find a way to gel, and improve their defensive line then they will test teams in Group A.
Eight games remaining for the Welsh, and it looks like only eight wins will do. You’d be brave to bet on that one!
NORTHERN IRELAND – Running Out of Lux
Dean Shiels celebrates after his first international goal for the Irish.
Northern Ireland were punished by Luxembourg for some slack defending on Tuesday night, as Daniel Da Mota netted late on to earn his side a point against the unlucky Irish.
The hosts dominated the match for the duration, and had three goals disallowed for various infringements (yes, three). After losing their opening match to Fabio Capello’s Russia, Northern Ireland now find themselves joint bottom of Group F on just one point, with some tough matches to come.
Favourites for the group Portugal will face Michael O’Neill’s side next time around, and despite Portugal’s poor form, it would take a real miracle for Northern Ireland to nick a result against the class of Ronaldo, Moutinho and Nani.
With 6 points apiece at the top of Group F, it looks like being a two horse race for qualification between Russia and Portugal. Had Northern Ireland grabbed a result in Russia, and held on for a victory at home to Luxembourg, then it may well have been a different story.
After two matches it looks like England are once again the only home nations side with the potential to qualify for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, but for a sudden change of fortune for the rest. Nothing is ever concrete in football, and come 2014 we may have more than one team to support, or none at all.