Well, if you had any hopes of making trips to see England’s World Cup 2010 qualifying away ties, you might want to reconsider. Along with England and their newest rival, Croatia, there will forays to Belarus, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Andorra. So, let’s hope there aren’t any players who are afraid of flying, or Eastern Europeans for that matter. However, it might be good preparation for the World Cup in South Africa.
The last time England were absent from the World Cup was 1994, which was the last time they were absent from any continental or international competition before Wednesday’s 3-2 defeat to the Croats sealed their exclusion from next summer’s Euro 2008 finals. That time around, they finished third, two points behind Holland and three points behind Norway, when victories still counted for two points and not three.
Right now, the focus lies with finding a new manager (and this time around, get the first and best choice, not the inevitable and necessarily British choice), but it’s never too early to look at the future, especially when there’s no Euro 2008 to look forward to.
I’ll have a list of must-see and must-avoid people and places in those countries (with a focus on Belarus, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan) in the near future, for those who plan to make the trips to Eastern Europe, but for now, you’ll just have to take my two cents on the draw.
It shapes up a little better than the Euro 2008 qualifying draw, because it doesn’t have the same depth. Jet lag, as viable of an excuse as it would be given some of the trips that are in store for the qualifying campaign, won’t cut it if England miss out on the World Cup. Kazakhstan and Andorra won’t be vacation spots for the team, but there’s 12 points for the taking for not only England, but Croatia and Ukraine as well. Every group has to have its whipping boy, so Andorra, step right up!
However, the Kazakh team might actually pose a threat if England in the away tie, much like Azerbaijan did in the World Cup 2006 qualifying tie in Baku. In that match, the visitors squeaked by to the tune of a 1-0 scoreline. No word yet on whether Borat will make an appearance in Almaty, but I will keep you posted.
Belarus won’t be a threat to win the group and are highly unlikely to even make a serious push for qualifying, but they could be the Macedonia of the group, and will make England work for points. Alexander Hleb would certainly like to have something to hold over his English teammates at Arsenal – all, er, two of them.
Ukraine will figure into the equation, and despite falling short in the Euro 2008 qualifying Group of Death (with France, Italy, and Scotland, along with a competitive Lithuanian side), should push for a second straight berth in the World Cup after making their international debut in World Cup 2006. Much like their former motherland, who got a generous piece of good luck with England’s failure to pick up a point handing the Russians a berth in Euro 2008, the away match in Kiev may well play a role in if or how much sweating there’ll be at the end for both England and Croatia.
Nevertheless, unlike in the last few times England has had to qualify for a tournament (where things have come down to the end time again), qualification for the World Cup hopefully shouldn’t be a pain, provided the Three Lions don’t throw away points as they have been prone to do. The outlook for qualification should be a little more positve, but considering this recent debacle (which could be a blessing in disguise, if England get the right manager), counting the chickens before they hatch isn’t exactly an option now, is it?
But with a fresh outlook, some fresh faces, and fresh bodies, hopefully at this time two years from now, we’ll be toasting, not roasting, the English manager.
Watch England v Croatia live here.