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World Cup 'worry' for England ahead of crucial Wembley clash

updated 5:19 PM EDT, Mon October 14, 2013
England fans have endured years of misery at the World Cup.
England fans have endured years of misery at the World Cup.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • England will qualify for the 2014 World Cup with victory over Poland
  • Ukraine can take top spot if it beats San Marino and England loses
  • World Champion Spain expected to seal qualification
  • Iceland can secure a playoff spot with victory in Norway

(CNN) -- Where there should be excitement there is trepidation.

Where there is hope, there is also fear.

England expects -- but what it also anticipates is a night of high drama, tension and nails being bitten until they are no longer visible to the human eye.

When Roy Hodgson's side take to the turf at the iconic Wembley Stadium, the 'Home of Football', it will attempt to secure a victory which guarantees a place at next year's World Cup.

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One win is all that separates England from challenging the world's best in Brazil and yet it still seems so far away.

Perhaps it's not difficult to understand given the country's history and that painful night 40 years ago when England faltered in such agonizing fashion.

As on Tuesday, the opponent will once again be Poland.

It was Poland and their goalkeeper, Jan Tomaszewski who was infamously labeled a 'clown' by former Nottingham Forest and Derby manager Brian Clough ahead of the qualifier on October 17 1973, who proved the scourge of the Three Lions.

Indeed, it was the Poles who had the last laugh -- claiming a 1-1 draw to progress to the 1974 World Cup finals and leave England desolated.

Forget that Poland only had two efforts on goal to England's 36 or that the home side hit the woodwork twice and had four efforts cleared off the line.

Instead, that night is remembered as one of the most depressing in the history of English football.

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Once again it is Poland, which will be roared on by more than 18,000 fans, which stands in England's way -- a proposition which is enough to make England manager Roy Hodgson slightly nervous.

"I'm a worrier. I think anyone who works in football is a worrier," Hodgson told reporters.

"It won't be my best night's sleep because at the moment all of my waking thoughts are around England versus Poland.

"On the other hand, I have great faith and trust in the players. I don't think I can be putting a stronger bunch of players, a more confident bunch of players, onto the field.

"But football is not a science. If it was a science and based on logic and science, I think we would be 99% there.

"But it's not, it's a game and things can happen in games that you don't really want to happen and that's what makes you worried.

"It's not that you are worried the team is not capable, it's just that you are worried something untoward might happen."

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England has performed inconsistently during its qualifying campaign, holding Ukraine to draws on two occasions, while also finishing level away in Poland and Montenegro.

Until Friday's 4-1 win over Montenegro, it had only managed to defeat minnows San Marino and Moldova -- a statistic which has left Tomaszewski unimpressed with England's current generation.

"Back then they (England) were one of the world's best teams, probably even the best," Tomaszewski told AFP

A turbulent period for FIFA began in May 2010. Whilst most of the world's soccer fans were more concerned with Africa's first World Cup finals that June, FIFA was presented with official bid documents by Australia, England, Netherlands/Belgium, Japan, South Korea, Qatar, Russia, Spain/Portugal and the United States for the 2018 and 2022 tournaments. During the ceremony at its Swiss headquarters, FIFA announced dates for inspections of the bidding nations from July-September. A turbulent period for FIFA began in May 2010. Whilst most of the world's soccer fans were more concerned with Africa's first World Cup finals that June, FIFA was presented with official bid documents by Australia, England, Netherlands/Belgium, Japan, South Korea, Qatar, Russia, Spain/Portugal and the United States for the 2018 and 2022 tournaments. During the ceremony at its Swiss headquarters, FIFA announced dates for inspections of the bidding nations from July-September.
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"Now England is weak, weak but they're not falling below a certain level. They could have qualified already, like the Italians or The Netherlands, but they've drawn too many games

"They (England) are still among the world's best, but for sure now they're not in as good form as 1973.

"But, objectively speaking, they're the best team in the group.

"Something just isn't right with England these days. All the players are fantastic but during a game -- I mean individually these players are nearly the world's best -- when they play together something's off with the communication, it's just not there."

England last failed to qualify for a major tournament in 2008 when it missed out on the European Championship finals following a 3-2 home defeat by Croatia.

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That defeat signaled the end of Steve McClaren's reign as national manager and left a deep and painful mark which resurfaced when England was humiliated 4-1 at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa by Germany.

Should England fail to defeat Poland and Ukraine triumph over San Marino then Hodgson's side will face the lottery of the playoffs.

But with the Poles having failed to claim a competitive victory over England in 40 years, Hodgson is in confident mood.

"History's important when it comes to not making political mistakes but I don't think it has any relevance in sport whatsoever," added Hodgson.

"Every game's a new game and each Poland team that's played England has been a very different team so, as far as we're concerned, we'll do our job against the Poland we will face."

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Spain

It is not just England which needs to gain a result to qualify -- defending champion Spain requires a draw from its final game to book its place in Brazil.

Spain faces Georgia knowing that should it slip up then France can steal top spot.

But the chance of that happening is remote according to captain Hugo Lloris.

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"Spain did the job on Friday (by beating Belarus 2-1) and we don't expect them to fail tomorrow," he told a news conference at the Stade de France ahead the game with Finland.

"Yes, we already have the playoffs next month in mind."

France could meet Portugal in the playoffs unless Cristiano Ronaldo's side pull off a huge victory over Luxembourg and Group F leaders Russia lose in Azerbaijan.

"France are the strongest we may face," Ronaldo told reporters after being asked about the prospect of the playoffs.

"They are the only ones I do not want to face."

Bosnia

In Group G, Bosnia can book its place at the World Cup for the very first time with victory in Lithuania.

Bosnia sits top of the group alongside Greece with 22 points, but enjoys a superior goal difference.

Greece faces bottom side Liechtenstein in its final game but Bosnia manager Safet Susic, a former international striker who played for Yugoslavia in the 1982 and 1990 tournaments, is confident of success.

"We are awaiting the game with impatience," he told reporters at Sarajevo airport. "The most important thing is that nobody is suspended or injured and we have had a good rest after beating Liechtenstein. I am optimistic."

Iceland

Iceland is preparing itself for "the most important game we have ever played" according to captain Aron Gunnarsson.

The nation has never competed at a World Cup but can clinch a playoff spot with victory in Norway.

A draw or defeat would be good enough as long as Slovenia do not better their result when they face group winners Switzerland.

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"We are young and do not scare easily," Cardiff City midfielder Gunnarsson told the UEFA website.

"We have already put pressure on ourselves and now we just have to handle it. We have Norway on Tuesday, which will be the most important game we have ever played.

"The Norwegians will not give us anything, like we wouldn't give them anything. They have nothing to lose so they might play well, but we just have to think about our game, stay cool and everything will be OK."

Turkey

While the Netherlands cantered to top spot in Group D, the race for second place remains wide open.

Turkey is in pole position, leading Romania by four on goal difference going into the final matchday.

But Turkey faces the Dutch while Romania hosts Estonia.

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Should Turkey fail to defeat its visitors then Romania can pounce and snatch the playoff place.

But if Turkey and Romania both suffer defeats then Hungary could yet sneak in through the backdoor.

South America

Chile and Ecuador can both seal their places at next year's tournament Tuesday.

A draw between the two teams will be good enough for both to progress.

Should there be a positive result then Uruguay could finish fourth with victory over an Argentina side which has already qualified.

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