Expectations don’t match reality again for England
The English need to realize they aren’t as good as they, or
FIFA, think they are.
Despite a FIFA ranking as the fourth-best football team, England
is in danger of missing out on becoming one of the 32 finalists at
the 2014 World Cup to the disbelief of fans who feel the side has a
near-divine right to qualify.
What seemed a relatively smooth route to Brazil for England in
avoiding any of the leading European teams during qualifying is
becoming trickier by the match.
The only wins have come against San Marino and Moldova, both of
which are outside FIFA’s top 100, with England just managing to
draw with the stronger sides in Group H – Poland, Ukraine and
Just avoiding losing on Wednesday seemed to please coach Roy
”I don’t think it’s a particularly bad result,” he said of the
1-1 draw in Montenegro.
Montenegro is on course to qualify for the World Cup for the
first time as an independent nation. With four games to go, the
28th-ranked Balkan nation has a two-point lead over England. If it
stays that way, England will likely have to win a playoff to reach
”For Montenegro to compete with England and stay on the top of
the group is something no one expected,” Montenegro coach Branko
Brnovic said. ”But we managed it.”
Not initially, however.
In the first half in Podgorica, England played with the purpose
and tenacity, hitting the goal frame twice before Wayne Rooney
scored the opener in the sixth minute to steady any nerves.
”There was a lot of experience out there and I think during the
first half we showed that,” England captain Steven Gerrard said.
”We controlled the game.”
There was fervor to England’s game that is so often lacking. But
for all the pressure applied in the first half, with Rooney looking
lively alongside United teammate Danny Welbeck, England failed to
strengthen its winning position.
”The problem is at 1-0 you’re always vulnerable,” Gerrard
said. ”You’ve got to go on and get the second goal to get complete
control, and we never did that.”
Hodgson was also hesitant to make any changes, even when it
became clear in the second half the game was slipping from
England’s grasp as its midfield – anchored by Gerrard and featuring
a fading Michael Carrick – became overrun.
England lost control and Montenegro went from insipid to
The inevitable equalizer came in the 76th minute when England
failed to clear a corner and Dejan Damjanovic bundled the ball into
the net at his second attempt.
Damjanovic had entered the game at halftime, replacing Mitar
Novakovic in midfield, and he helped his team regain a foothold in
A second midfield change was made with about half an hour to go,
and Montenegro’s third substitution came a minute before the
leveler when a striker replaced a defender.
Only after conceding did Hodgson make his first – and only –
substitution, with Ashley Young replacing Tom Cleverley in
midfield, leaving strikers Jermain Defoe and Daniel Sturridge to
spend the whole night on the bench.
”You’re always debating changes,” Hodgson said. ”But at 1-0
we weren’t 100 percent convinced there was a change we could make
to make a vast difference to what was happening on the field.”
Gerrard identified the problem, however.
”We stopped playing after the break for 20 or 30 minutes and,
away from home, you just can’t afford to do that,” the midfielder
said. ”We stopped passing the ball and that’s when we lost
control, and I think they deserved the equalizer.”
Hodgson suggested some players were clinging on to the slender
lead rather than trying to add to it.
”We weren’t trying to see the game out 1-0, though sometimes
it’s the only thing you can do if your opponents are having a good
time,” Hodgson said. ”We got close to doing that.”
The Daily Mail newspaper’s back-page headline was blunt:
In a year when the English Football Association is celebrating
its 150th anniversary, the landmark is a reminder that despite
being the sport’s pioneers the country has only won one major
title: the 1966 World Cup.
The way the team is playing, England might not even get the
chance to have another shot at the title next year.
”I do believe we will still qualify,” Hodgson said. ”The
players have shown tremendous spirit, even at times when things
aren’t necessarily going our way, so the determination is still
”There is no question we are a very difficult team to beat and
we do have a lot of quality.”
That’s just yet to be reflected in qualifying.