England players Wayne Rooney (left) and Jack Wilshere arrive for a training session, ahead of their 2014 World Cup qualifying football match against Montenegro, at London Colney training complex near London, yesterday.
LONDON: England’s chances of securing automatic qualification for next year’s World Cup in Brazil will be in the balance when they host Montenegro in their penultimate qualifying match today.
Whereas victory at Wembley Stadium will preserve their place at the top of Group H ahead of next week’s final game at home to Poland, anything less could dash their hopes of qualifying automatically.
England go into the game a point ahead of Ukraine and Montenegro, but should Roy Hodgson’s men fail to win and the Ukrainians prevail at home to Poland, it is they who would take over at the summit.
With Ukraine completing their campaign away to perennial punching bags San Marino, who have lost all eight of their games, conceding 43 goals, such a scenario would almost certainly consign England to the play-offs, provided they were not pipped to second place by Montenegro.
An added source of concern for England is that, in their eight games to date, they have only managed to beat Moldova and San Marino, the pool’s two weakest teams.
Their last meeting with Montenegro, in Podgorica in March, ended in a 1-1 draw and striker Wayne Rooney has urged his team-mates not to get flustered if they are unable to make an early breakthrough today.
“They are organised and hard to beat, they put a lot of men behind the ball and try and contain you,” said the Manchester United striker. “We have to make sure we are patient and try to create the chances that could lead to us scoring goals.
“I think if we can get that first goal in the first half, then the game will open up. That first goal is vital.”
England manager Hodgson has insisted that he is looking no further than his side’s next two games, despite the looming possibility of a first major qualification failure since Euro 2008.
He can nonetheless take heart from the injury problems plaguing opposite number Branko Brnovic, who is expected to be without goalkeeper Mladen Bozovic, centre-back Marko Basa, midfielder Miodrag Pekovic and talismanic captain Mirko Vucinic, the Juventus forward.
England have lost Ashley Cole and Theo Walcott to injury but are otherwise at full strength and Hodgson will be able to pair Rooney in attack with Liverpool’s Daniel Sturridge for only the second time this year.
“The potential in that partnership is frightening,” says captain Steven Gerrard.
“They are both very skilful, they can both create and they can both score. All the boxes are ticked. They just have to prove they can make it happen.”
Meanwhile, coach Joachim Loew has said he wants Germany to be “greedy” against the Republic of Ireland in today’s World Cup qualifier to finally secure their Brazil 2014 berth.
“We’re greedy, we want to win the game before a home crowd and secure our qualification,” said Loew ahead of the Cologne international.
“I have fond memories of the compact Cologne stadium and we want to qualify as group winners without questions or discussions.
“I have a good feeling about Friday.”
Germany are five points clear in Group C, needing just a point in Cologne to guarantee their place at next June’s World Cup and Loew’s side thrashed the Irish 6-1 in Dublin in last October’s qualifier. Ireland are fourth in the group under caretaker manager Noel King after Italian great Giovanni Trapattoni’s resignation last month after his side’s qualification hopes went up in flames.
Republic captain Robbie Keane is an injury concern after the veteran striker missed the final training session before the squad flew to Cologne and had a scan on his ankle injury.
The Germans are eager to wrap up their qualification at home ahead of Tuesday’s final qualifier away to Sweden in Stockholm and Loew has said he expects a tough match against the Irish.
“The Irish are defensively compact and play with a physical presence,” said Loew.
“It’s in their nature, they defend incredibly well and get back quickly.
“It does not matter which coach is sitting on the bench and what players are on the pitch, the Irish are always difficult to play.”