Sunday 31 July 2011

Soccer | World Cup qualifiers

Fabio Capello warns England against World Cup qualifiers complacency

• Group H: England, Ukraine, Montenegro, Poland, Moldova, San Marino
• Group A: Scotland, Wales, Croatia, Serbia, Belgium, Macedonia
• Group F: Northern Ireland, Portugal, Russia, Israel, Azerbaijan, Luxembourg
• Group C: Republic of Ireland, Germany, Sweden, Austria, Faroe Islands, Kazakhstan
Fabio Capello at the World Cup draw
England head coach Fabio Capello at the draw for the 2014 World Cup, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Photograph: Nelson Almeida/AFP/Getty Images
Fabio Capello has warned England to "play every game like a final", following a World Cup qualifying draw in Rio de Janeiro that placed them in Group H with Montenegro, Poland, Ukraine, Moldova and San Marino.

The head coach, who will not be in charge as he departs his post after Euro 2012 campaign, said: "You have to be really, really focused and play every game like a final. England need to be careful, this will not be easy.

Obviously we know Montenegro [from England's European Championship qualifying group], Ukraine we played in qualification for the World Cup in South Africa. Poland are improving, because they are one of the hosts of the next European Championship. I don't know Moldova, but San Marino will be easy again."

October's meeting with Montenegro in Podgorica could decide who tops the Euro 2012 qualifying group, as the nations are separated only by goal difference. Capello believes a win there could prove crucial ahead of the World Cup campaign. "Yes, this will be very important for the future, for the next games we play against them," he said. Regarding the pivotal away trips, Capello added: "In Ukraine the stadium will be OK, in Poland things will be OK, Moldova I do not know, but Montenegro we know."

The Italian also believes enough new potential is developing to safeguard England's future. "It will be interesting to watch some of the players next season," Capello said. "I have spoken with some of the young players at Manchester United and Liverpool and with [Kieran] Gibbs, who will be in the first XI [of Arsenal] always. There is a chance that some of these players will be very important for the World Cup."

Rio Ferdinand, who was due to be England's captain at the South Africa World Cup last summer before he was injured, tweeted: "England WC [World Cup] qualifying group is similar to most qualifying campaigns, some tricky away games but have to be looking to qualify top."

Sir Trevor Brooking, the Football Association's director of football, also thought that England should reach the finals. He said: "We can't complain at the draw. We could have had a lot worse. I [think] we will qualify."

After England's hopes had been given a boost when they avoided being drawn with France, who were seeded in the second band of nations, the bookmakers immediately installed the 1966 World Cup winners as the favourites to secure an automatic berth. England are currently 2-5 to win Group H with Poland 5-1, Ukraine 6-1, Montenegro 12-1, 25-1 for Moldova and 5000-1 for San Marino.

Poland are familiar foes. Sir Alf Ramsey's side famously failed to reach the 1974 World Cup in West Germany after Jan Tomaszewski made several crucial saves at Wembley to prevent England achieving the required victory. But they also met at Mexico 86, when Gary Lineker scored a hat-trick in a 3-0 group win.

In all, England have won 10 of the meetings between the nations, drawing six, and losing only one, and qualified for the finals of the 1990, 1998 and 2006 World Cups, and the European Championships of 1992 and 2000 after facing the Poles. Aside from Ramsey's 1974 failure, only Graham Taylor's 1994 World Cup qualifying campaign has not ended in success.

Of the home nations, Scotland and Wales are in Group A, one of the more difficult divisions that includes Croatia, Serbia, Belgium and Macedonia, while Northern Ireland also face a tough challenge, being paired with Portugal, Russia, Israel Azerbaijan and Luxembourg in Group F.

Wales may feel they have the opportunity to gain revenge following a notorious incident in qualifying for the 1978 World Cup. In a home Wales match staged at Anfield, Joe Jordan appeared to handle the ball when jumping for a header, yet the referee awarded Scotland a penalty that Don Masson converted before Kenny Dalglish's goal to extinguish Wales's hopes.
Asked about meeting Wales, Stewart Regan, the Scottish Football Association chief executive, said: "They're all juicy fixtures. But yes, the home nations always provide extra interest."

Wales's manager, Gary Speed, said: "We have a chance of qualifying. We will have to be good and at the top of our game and have to improve from where we are now."

The Republic of Ireland may struggle to win Group C, as they will go up against Germany, but should fancy their chances of finishing second ahead of Sweden, Austria, the Faroe Islands and Kazakhstan.

Spain, the World Cup and European Championship holders, were drawn in the smallest group, of five countries. But they will have to overcome France, the 2006 finalists, if they are to qualify automatically.

The nine group winners qualify by right with the eight best runners-up playing off for Europe's last four berths in Brazil


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