England once again look to the Old Guard as the Road to the Maracana starts in Moldova
12:07 GMT, 4 September 2012
The Road from Moldova to the Maracana is not well trodden – but this is the long and winding route England must take if they are to end their long wait for World Cup success.
On Friday evening, their adventure will get underway in Chisinau, a city at the heart of its country not only geographically, but economically, socially and historically.
In front of 10,000 fans at the Zimbru Stadium, England will start off on a journey they hope will end in 22 months’ time in the rather more salubrious surroundings of the Maracana in Rio de Janeiro. Roy Hodgson’s mission is to guide England from Chisinau to the Copacabana.
The Road to Brazil: Roy Hodgson is preparing to lead England into another World Cup qualification campaign
MOLDOVA TO THE MARACANA – ENGLAND'S QUALIFYING SCHEDULE
Sept 7 – Moldova (A) – 2,688 mile round trip
Sept 11 – Ukraine (H)
Oct 12 – San Marino (H)
Oct 15 – Poland (A) – 1,804 miles
Mar 22 – San Marino (A) – 1,568 miles
Mar 26 – Montenegro (A) – 2,138 miles
Sept 6 – Moldova (H)
Sept 10 – Ukraine (A) – 2,660 miles
Oct 11 – Montenegro (H)
Oct 15 – Poland (H)
Just 75 days after that nightmare of the quarter-final penalty shoot-out exit recurred against Italy, a new cycle of qualification begins for the national team.
Along the way, they must negotiate a group which carries some potentially tricky assignments – even for a team officially (and laughably) ranked third best in the world.
For the supporters who followed England to Poland and Ukraine for the European Championships in the summer, they can book a return ticket because both host countries lie in wait.
There is also a swift return to Montenegro, who gave England problems in the last qualification campaign, as well as games against San Marino and the aforementioned Moldova.
If the experience of Euro 2012 exceeded many people’s expectations, it has not proved especially cathartic. The complexion of England’s squad looks very similar to one that started the last cycle of qualifying and in many cases the two or three before that.
It’s a mockery of England’s lofty third place in the world that Hodgson can find no reason to take an axe to the senior members of the squad to make way for talented, up-and-coming young players.
The manager admitted this week that he was not prepared to toss the likes of John Terry, Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard on to the scrapheap – because there is nobody to replace them.
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Old Guard: Frank Lampard and John Terry continue to hold down unchallenged places in the England team
To some, it is comforting to have the remnants of the so-called ‘Golden Generation’ (one that has not got past the last eight of a major tournament) but it is just no longer inspiring.
Just over 50,000 tickets have been sold for England’s second qualifier against Ukraine at Wembley on Tuesday, on course to be the lowest crowd for a home international since a World Cup qualifier with Andorra in 2009 held on the night of a Tube strike.
The public are not convinced – and this is one of the more attractive fixtures in the group.
Hodgson has infused a hint of youth in his squad for the Moldova and Ukraine double header, but few of them are actually going to feature.
Chelsea’s Ryan Bertrand is the heir apparent to Cole, who will miss at least the Moldova game with an ankle injury, but it’s unlikely Hodgson will install him ahead of Leighton Baines. Nor will Kyle Walker unseat Glen Johnson for the moment.
Back in the fold: Jermain Defoe is likely to feature in the opening qualifiers with Moldova and Ukraine in the absence of Wayne Rooney and Andy Carroll
The midfield just looks exactly the same – Michael Carrick has been recalled, but is there any place for his Manchester United teammate Tom Cleverley Not ahead of the more established names.
We should see a little more of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, one of the few players in the squad who is genuinely exciting to the punters, but who has much to prove. Ditto Theo Walcott.
Up front, Hodgson’s hand is forced by the unfortunate absences of Wayne Rooney and Andy Carroll, but he has turned down the chance to call up another young replacement for them.
At least this situation allows us to peer a little way in to the future with Danny Welbeck and Daniel Sturridge surely likely to feature.
Break through to Brazil: Daniel Sturridge (left) is one of the young England stars hoping to make an impression in this set of qualifiers
However, the manager was clearly not enamoured enough with Jack Rodwell, Steven Caulker, Jordan Henderson and Martin Kelly to veto their immediate return to the Under-21 squad.
We pray that one or two of these young talents makes a breakthrough during this qualification campaign, otherwise we will once again have Terry, Cole, Lampard and Gerrard as our axis in a World Cup finals – with a creaking combined age of 136.
And how many genuinely world class players will England have on the plane to Brazil Joe Hart, Wayne Rooney… erm, any more
At least the trip shouldn’t be too turbulent. England will take maximum points from Montenegro, San Marino and Moldova.
And it’s hard to be too terrified by Poland side who failed to win a match in their home Euros and were dumped out bottom of a comparatively weak group, nor a Ukraine team who were reliant on the goals of Andriy Shevchenko, a man who currently canvassing for a seat in the Ukrainian Parliament.
Having said that, England were exceedingly fortunate to beat them in Donetsk – saved only by a short-sighted additional official as Terry hooked the ball off the line.
But by the time England travel to Ukraine in a year’s time, they should already be browsing through the Brazil hotel brochures, a point or two away from qualification.
Do it like this: Hodgson has made it clear that England will not be playing fashionable possession football
Those few who are convinced England can triumph there might reconsider after some of Hodgson’s other comments from the other day – ‘No one has yet succeeded in convincing me that you win games by what is perceived to be possession.’
I sense there may be a few teams on the continent and in South America who beg to differ. Hodgson is obviously no follower of football fashion.
But if England are going to approach this qualification mission by following the tried and tested (or should that be tired and detested) formula of asking the cossetted Old Guard to seek out the head of the tall front man to knock down for the little front man to score, then all we can hope for is to get to the Rio departure gate with the minimum of fuss and drama.
Get there first and try and sort out the problems later.
YOUR ESSENTIAL GUIDE TO ENGLAND'S GROUP
When and where October 16, 2012 in Warsaw
and October 15, 2013 at Wembley
Euro form Qualified as hosts; Fourth
in Group A, drew with Greece and Russia, lost to Czech Republic
Coach Waldemar Fornalik Captain Jakub Blaszczykowski FIFA Ranking 54
Last meeting Qualification for the 2006
World Cup – England won 2-1 home and away
Danger man Robert Lewandowski –
Prolific Borussia Dortmund striker
Prediction Have the potential to
challenge England for top spot in the group, but will probably have to settle
for the play-off berth.
Polish predator: Robert Lewandowski in action for Borussia Dortmund against Nuremberg at the weekend
When and where September 11, 2012 at
Wembley and September 10, 2013 in Kiev
Euro form Qualified as hosts; Third in
Group D, beat Sweden then lost to France and England
Coach Oleh Blokhin Captain Anatoliy Tymoshchuk FIFA Ranking 45
Last meeting Euro 2012 – England won 1-0
thanks to Wayne Rooney’s header
Danger man Tymoshchuk – Vastly
experienced captain and deep-lying midfielder who packs a fierce shot
Prediction Can challenge for the
play-off place but aren’t as good as they used to be.
When and where March 26, 2013 in Podgorica
and October 11, 2013 at Wembley
Euro Form Play-offs; Lost 3-0 on
aggregate to the Czech Republic
Coach Branko Brnovic Captain Mirko Vucinic FIFA Ranking 50
Last meeting Qualification for Euro 2012
– A 0-0 draw at Wembley and 2-2 draw in Montenegro
Danger Man Stevan Jovetic – Talented
Fiorentina second striker or winger who has been compared to Roberto Baggio
Prediction Could be the Dark Horses and
pip Ukraine and Poland to the play-off place, as they did in the last round of
Montengro's main man: Stefan Jovetic takes on the Udinese defence
When and where Friday in Chisinau and
September 6, 2013 at Wembley
Euro Form Second bottom in qualifying
Coach Ion Caras Captain Alexandru Epureanu FIFA Ranking 137
Last meeting Qualification for World Cup
1998 – England won 3-0 away and 4-0 at home
Danger Man Alexandru Suvorov – Striker
who plays for Cracovia in Poland
Prediction Six points in the bag for
England and plenty of goals to boot.
When and where October 12, 2012 at Wembley
and March 22, 2013
Euro form Bottom of qualifying group E
Coach Giampaolo Mazza Captain Andy Selva FIFA Ranking 206
Last meeting Qualification for World Cup
1994 – 6-0 at Wembley and 7-1 in Bologna which, famously, wasn’t enough for
England to qualify
Danger Man Andy Selva – his nation’s
all-time top scorer
Prediction Whipping boys.