England will qualify for next year’s World Cup finals if they beat Montenegro and Poland in their final two Group H qualifiers and manager Roy Hodgson knows there is no room for error as they seek to secure their place in Brazil.
Both matches are at Wembley and England go into them topping the group by one point from Montenegro, who are tomorrow’s visitors, and Ukraine, and three clear of Poland, who provide next Tuesday’s opposition.
Hodgson, appointed just before Euro 2012, is confident England will complete the task and avoid the doomsday scenario of failing to reach the finals — something that last happened under Graham Taylor 20 years ago.
“My life at the moment is these two games,” Hodgson told reporters this week. “As for the doomsday scenarios put before me, I won’t have to confront them because I believe, and am confident, in that belief that the team will do it.”
“Of course, I am nervous, any coach worthy of the name is nervous when the whistle goes, but I believe we have the players to complete the task. I am certain as I can be that we will achieve our aim,” he said.
England are the only unbeaten team in the group and they will look to preserve that record against Montenegro without leftback Ashley Cole, who will miss the match with a rib injury.
Cole is likely to be replaced by Everton’s Leighton Baines, but he has not yet been ruled out of the match against Poland.
Baines will win his 20th cap if, as expected, he lines up alongside Everton teammate Phil Jagielka with the back four completed by Chelsea’s Gary Cahill and Tottenham Hotspur’s Kyle Walker.
Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and Jack Wilshere are expected to play in midfield, with Liverpool’s free-scoring Daniel Sturridge and the Manchester United pair of Danny Welbeck and Wayne Rooney up front.
Joe Hart will keep his place in goal, despite a recent loss of form.
Wilshere is confident England will qualify and he is delighted to be in the mix after publicly expressing his regret after being photographed smoking a cigarette outside a nightclub last week.
“I know what I did was wrong, it was a mistake, and I have learned from it and I have apologized,” he told reporters on Tuesday.
Montenegro travel to Wembley hampered by injuries to four players who are all likely to miss the match, including captain Mirko Vucinic.
Goalkeeper Mladen Bozovic, centerback Marko Basa and midfielder Miodrag Pekovic have all been ruled out, while defender Miodrag Dzudovic is doubtful because he has back and hamstring injuries.
Two years ago, in a Euro 2012 qualifier, Dzudovic was the player kicked by Rooney which led to the England striker’s red card 17 minutes from the end of a 2-2 draw in Podgorica. That match is one of three the two countries have played against each other and all three have ended in draws.
Dzudovic believes another draw against England at Wembley and a win in their final match against Moldova could be enough to see Montenegro grab a playoff place.
“We will go for a win against England because we can’t just roll over and throw away all the good work we have done in the qualifiers so far,” Dzudovic said. “With the right attitude and self-belief we can finish in the top two and reach the playoffs.”