A 2-0 win against Poland guaranteed an entry for England into the World Cup finals in summer 2014 and it could be argued that the victory was achieved in a match akin to the pace associated with the Premier League.
There have been several recent performances by the English team where the lack of creativity and failure to penetrate the opposing defences has been a hallmark of the match. Against a spirited and committed Polish team, Roy Hodgson’s team were allowed more freedom to play at a tempo to which they are accustomed each week at club level.
With Andros Townsend continuing to display his natural attacking instincts, England appeared much more comfortable playing at a faster rhythm and tested Arsenal keeper Wojciech Szczesny on several occasions throughout the match. Had Polish and Borussia Dortmund striker Robert Lewandowski not been so wasteful in front of goal, the outcome may have been different but England were eventual worthy winners.
Second placed Ukraine’s claimed an 8-0 victory against San Marino in the same group, but they will join a list of seven other contenders vying for the remaining four UEFA qualifiers, aside from the group winners. Denmark were the solitary second placed team failing to occupy a play-off berth.
As the seedings for the UEFA World Cup Play-offs are based on current FIFA rankings, the 25th placing for the 1998 champions France ensures that they begin at a relative disadvantage when the draw is completed on Monday 21st October.
Having been paired with current World and European champions Spain in Group I, France faced an almost impossible task in securing automatic qualification and their only defeat arrived via a home loss to the group winners. They are now paying the price for several years of under-achievement amid unrest in the camp, although they should have sufficient talent within the squad to secure a berth in Brazil.
At the opposite end of the scale, Iceland’s 1-1 draw in Oslo confirmed their second place in Group E and as such provided the national team with their first ever opportunity to play in the finals of a major tournament. They will now join France among the unseeded teams in a draw to decide the opponents of top ranked Croatia, Greece, Portugal and Ukraine.
The play-off matches will be closely fought affairs with a World Cup place at stake. For long periods of the match against Poland, England knew that one mistake could condemn them to the play-off lottery.
Yet a bolder and more competitive approach by Roy Hodgson has probably ensured that this will not be the case.
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