Excellent England qualify for World Cup as tournament takes shape
In the final night of European qualification group games for World Cup 2014, the matches served up plenty of drama, and the main sides have now booked their places in Brazil.
The likes of Italy and Holland had got the job done early, sealing their top qualifying spot in the earlier rounds of the group games. Manchester United star Robin Van Persie ensured this with a hat trick last week, goals that made him Holland’s top goalscorer of all time.
Germany, Belgium and Spain also saw themselves qualify last night, and these Three superb sides will be amongst the most hotly tipped in Brazil. The quality of Germany and Spain is well known, but Belgium have emerged as a real top side, quality players in every position, many playing in the English Premier League.
The drama really was with England. They needed to beat Poland at Wembley to qualify automatically for Brazil and avoid the roulette of second placed playoffs. The first half hour of the match was edgy, England laying on many great chances but failing to score. But then, the excellent Leighton Baines put a precision cross into the box which the man of the match Wayne Rooney dispatched into the net. England’s attack was excellent all night, Tottenham’s Andors Townsend has emerged as a star player, bursting down the wing with fast pace and skilled ball control. He made chances all night, cutting in for shots and laying off excellent passes for his team mates all night. But England couldn’t get the second goal, and it remained tense all game, all up until the final few minutes when England captain Steven Gerrard ran throught to score the second. A good attacking England side had qualified for the World cup.
So what can Engalnd expect in Brazil? The higher quality of other teams and intense heat which the English won’t be used to will certainly hinder their performance. But the attacking prowess shown last night could see the English at least make the quarters. No team in the world would enjoy the attacking charge of Baines, Townsend, Rooney or Welbeck coming at them. England have speed and skill, goals will come. The real worry would be defending, the attacking nature of Baines and Townsend will leave England short of cover on the break, and top teams could be lethal in punishing in England. But manager Roy Hodgshon seems to have struck on his best side at the right time, penetration of Townsend, Welbeck and Baines on the wings with Rooney posing danger centrally. England can be proud having qualified unbeaten and finally having found their best system of play.
Elsewhere in Europe it was a special night for Bosnia, who qualified top of their group to go to the World Cup for the first time. I have personally been to Bosnia, a special country with a great people, who just18 years ago were decimated in the pain of the Balkans wars. What a comeback, the national side has sparked celebrations across Sarajevo, emerging as a genuinely solid team. Unfortunately for TJR sports editor in chief John Canton, this was at the expense of Greece, who finish second and must overcome now a playoff.
There are other big teams facing the uncertainty of playoffs, Ronaldo’s Portugal and the French national team only managing second placed finishes. Croatia, Ukraine, Sweden, Denmark, Romania and Iceland make up the rest of the playoffs.
The 2014 World Cup is taking shape, just a few teams still yet to join the party, and the current list of teams qualified is below –
…. The world is watching.
G.J. Herbert is a writer and editor. For more sports news follow him at @gjhsports on twitter.