Steven Gerrard admits to being haunted by England’s failure to qualify for Euro 2008, but it is confident that there will be no repeat when he captains his country against Poland on Tuesday, needing a win to ensure automatic qualification for next year’s World Cup.
In 2007 on another autumnal Wembley night, England needed just a draw against Croatia to earn a place in the European Championships, but on a sodden pitch Steve McClaren’s side crashed to a wretched 3-2 defeat. Gerrard, in the side that night, claims he has yet to shake off the monumental disappointment of the last time England failed to qualify for a major tournament.
“It's a memory that I'll struggle to eject," he said, according to the Football Association website. "It was one of the lowest moments of my international journey so I hope we don't go back to it. We had a load of changes and we under-performed, but it's one of those memories that keeps coming back.” England went into its last two matches needing two victories to be guaranteed top spot in its group and an automatic path to Brazil. The first part of the job was completed in impressive fashion with a 4-1 victory over Montenegro and Gerrard is expecting the team to carry that momentum on and avoid an unwanted playoff.
"The feeling is completely different this time around,” he explained. “We've got everyone fit and available, we're on the back of a really good performance the other night, the belief and the confidence in the squad is real, we do feel that confident.”
Roy Hodgson will be forced to make one change from the side that triumphed against Montenegro, with right-back Kyle Walker ruled out after picking up his second booking of qualification on Friday. One of Manchester United duo Chris Smalling and Phil Jones is likely to come into the side. Andros Townsend looks set to keep his place after his goal-scoring debut against Montenegro. There is speculation, though, that Frank Lampard will drop out of the side with Jack Wilshere or Michael Carrick possible replacements.
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Poland come into the game with nothing to play for after a 1-0 defeat to Ukraine on Friday ended its chances of qualification. However, with a large Polish population in England, the decision has been taken to increase the away fans’ section at Wembley, meaning that Poland will have at least 18,000 fans cheering them on. And star man Robert Lewandowski believes that the support for his team will be a big motivating factor.
“We know we have a lot of fans out there who will come to the game,” he said, according to Sky Sports. “We don't stand a chance of going through, but we want to go to Wembley and at least allow our supporters a little fun. For sure we won't be favorites.”
Prediction: Poland should present a tougher challenge for England than a Montenegro side that was severely depleted by injuries. Being cheered on by its own fans should also inspire Waldermar Fornalik’s men. Yet, Poland, with a couple of notable exceptions, are a fairly ordinary side. And with Lukasz Piszczek out injured, it has lost a key combination down the right flank with his Borussia Dortmund teammate Jakub Blaszczykowski.
With Poland also having problems at left-back, England should be able to take advantage down the flanks. Andros Townsend, star man against Montenegro, could have another memorable night. There is sure to be some tension and Poland may come out with plenty of intensity but, if England can play with the same positivity it displayed against Montenegro, a goal should come and Poland could then fade away.
England 2-0 Poland
Where to watch: The World Cup qualifier will kick off from Wembley Stadium at 3 p.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by Fox Sports 1, with a delayed online stream available on Fox Soccer 2Go.