No room for error

Sky Sports News' Chief Football Reporter Nick Collins was in Montenegro to see England's disappointing 1-1 which leaves their qualifying hopes in the balance. He takes stock of the qualifying campaign so far...

Last Updated: 28/03/13 3:55pm

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Six down, four to go and England's chances of winning Group H are starting to hang in the balance.

Yes, it's still in their own hands - victories in all their remaining games will guarantee they finish top - but the harsh reality is that so far England have only managed to beat Moldova and San Marino.

Each time England have won the first game of their double-headers, they have then failed to follow it up with a second victory a few days later. The draw in Podgorica against Montenegro was a good example.

England arrived in buoyant mood after an 8-0 thrashing of San Marino, and began in a really positive fashion.

Wayne Rooney hit the post early on then scored for his fifth game running in an England shirt. For half an hour Roy Hodgson's men were dominant - they played with pace, confidence and energy.

The second half was a different story. England surrendered possession, defended too deep and couldn't prevent Montenegro putting them under immense pressure.

The equaliser was no surprise - just as they had done in Poland last October England had let slip a precious lead. Just how costly that proves, we'll have to wait and see.

The worry for England is that by the time they play their next qualifier - at home to Moldova on September 6, they could be five points behind the group leaders. Montenegro face Ukraine at home in June.

On the plus side, England under Hodgson are difficult to beat, Rooney has scored seven goals in his last seven England games, and there is a strong belief inside the squad that they will qualify.

But too many more slip-ups, and instead of winning the group in October, England could be facing the play-offs in November.



Roy Hodgson's men will expect to make a winning start to the first of two crucial double-headers as they host a Moldova side they thrashed 5-0 earlier in the campaign.

Moldova are one of the group's weaker teams having won just one of their opening six games - and that against the minnows San Marino - but they have shown greater resolve in their most recent fixtures.


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Unheralded forward Alexandru Dedov, who plays for Sheriff Tiraspol, has emerged as one of their most dangerous players and proved a handful for Montenegro in a narrow loss to the group leaders last Friday.


England's last remaining away game could be a testing one against a Ukraine side who still harbour hopes of qualification for Brazil 2014.

The venue is still to be confirmed but it could well be one of the modern arenas used for Euro 2012, which may help England given they played all four of their games in that tournament in the country. That included a victory over Ukraine in Donetsk but the sides drew 1-1 when they met at Wembley last September.

Dynamo Kiev forward Andriy Yarmolenko has been their recent inspiration, scoring in wins over Poland and Moldova in the past week.


The automatic qualification hopes of both England and Montenegro could well come down to this meeting of the group's top two sides in London.

Montenegro, ranked 28th in the world, have made rapid progress since playing their first international in 2007 and have now troubled England in two successive major tournament qualifying campaigns.

England came out on top in the race for Euro 2012 despite not beating them but they may need to overcome them for the first time to win this one. They should at least be more familiar with the threat of Stevan Jovetic, Mirko Vucinic and Dejan Damjanovic.


Not for the first time, England may need to see off Poland to secure a place at a World Cup finals.

The Poles have been a thorn in the side on numerous occasions, most famously in 1973 when Jan Tomaszewski - labelled a "clown" by Brian Clough - produced a string of remarkable saves to secure a draw at Wembley and qualification at England's expense.

The current Poland side flopped on home soil at Euro 2012 but still have a chance of reaching the World Cup. Borussia Dortmund striker Robert Lewandowski, heavily linked with Manchester United, is their star player.

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