From some of the doom-laden coverage being given to England's final World Cup qualifier against Poland
, you'd think that we were a team of no-hopers coming up against 2010-vintage Spain. Nothing could be further from the truth. There are plenty of reasons to believe that England will trounce the Poles at Wembley and earn glorious passage to Brazil. And here they are. - - - - Home advantage.
Forget the fact that 25,000 Polish fans will be at Wembley. They'll be 60,000 England fans there, and with so much at stake they're certain to create a stunning atmosphere which will lift the whole team - you know, if they stop tutting every misplaced pass and remember half-time only lasts 15 minutes. - - - - Rooney is good - again!
The striker who has been England's key man ever since Euro 2004 has spent the last two or three years in the doldrums, but he's back approaching his best form, and has scored in every single World Cup qualifier of the current campaign that he's played. There's no reason to think that run will end tonight. Remember, he only tends to underachieve massively after
we've qualified. - - - - Sturridge is good – at last!
He's been the future of the national team for a few years, but having overcome his selfishness and found a rich vein of form. He looks like the most promising new England front man since, er, Rickie Lambert. - - - - Roy Hodgson is an underrated genius.
His tactics in the last two matches have been perfect, and for all the talk of conservatism and negativity, he's a man who knows how to churn out results. The man made Switzerland the third-best football team in international football, for goodness sake - only via FIFA's crackpot rankings system, admittedly, but still, the man's got a terrific record at getting limited sides to punch slightly above their weight. Hurrah! - - - - This is not the kind of match we mess up.
Reading the papers, you'd think that England always fail to qualify for big tournaments. That's total rubbish - it's nearly 20 years since we last missed out on a World Cup. It's a true fact that England have a 100% record in must-win qualifiers in which their manager did not shelter under an umbrella or say: "Do I not like that." - - - - Familiar foes.
When England famously lost out to Poland in 1973, they were facing a team of unknowns from behind the Iron Curtain with little idea of what to expect – a comment exemplified by Brian Clough's assertion that their goalie was a "clown". This time round, 15 of the 22 men in Poland's squad play in the biggest five leagues in Europe. England's defenders will have seen Robert Lewandowski stick four past Real Madrid for Dortmund, so they'll definitely
be able to stop him tonight. 'Cos that's how football works. - - - - Statistics.
The law of averages suggests that Andros Townsend will follow his standout performance on Friday with a much quieter night – but that same law suggests Joe Hart is due one of the greatest goalkeeping displays of all time. The stats people call it 'regression to the mean' - and our Joe has plenty of regressing to do. - - - - England Egos.
Everyone wants to be the player who puts England in the World Cup. It's easy to forget that David Beckham was a national hate figure after the 1998 World Cup, and only resurrected his image with THAT free kick to put England into the 2002 tournament. Someone else will be desperate to step up tonight and earn their own place in English football lore. Just a shame Ashley Cole's not around to make himself a national treasure.
- Sports & Recreation