England secured qualification for the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil courtesy of wins against Montenegro and Poland. The first of the two fixtures, at home to Montenegro , saw manager Roy Hodgson make bold moves with his team selection. A coach perceived to prefer a more conservative, tactical approach gave uncapped Tottenham winger Andros Townsend a starting berth.
Photo: The Independent
Townsend completed an established attacking quartet alongside in-form Liverpool front-man Daniel Sturridge and Manchester United duo Wayne Rooney and Danny Welbeck. However, England had to wait until early in the second period to break the deadlock. Townsend’s cross from the right found its way to Rooney, who scrambled home.
The lead was soon doubled as Montenegrin defender Branko Boscovic turned the ball into his own net trying to clear Welbeck’s delivery. Dejan Damjanovic pulled one back, but Townsend cemented his place in England folklore with a swerving 25-yarder to quell any fears of a comeback.A late Sturridge penalty, after he himself was fouled, secured England a 4-1 victory. Perhaps the score-line flattered a little, but it provided a welcome confidence boost before the vital Poland game.
The win had secured a play-off spot, but with teams such as France and Portugal potential opponents, England needed automatic qualification. Hodgson’s side had to match Ukraine’s result against the perpetually winless San Marino, meaning only a win at Wembley would suffice. The game began at a fast pace with England taking the initiative, but the Poles looked threatening on the break after the breakdown of English set-pieces.
Townsend, a continuous threat down the right-flank, crashed a shot against the frame of the goal as England pushed for an opener. Everton left-back Leighton Baines was dictating play on the left, which culminated in a superb whipped delivery for Rooney to nod home just before half-time.
With the Poles growing into the match, and backed by 20,000 supporters, it was left to the English skipper to lead by example. Steven Gerrard duly obliged, netting an 88th minute goal to ensure England’s place in Brazil next year. With the emergence of Townsend and Baines’ usurpation of Ashley Cole, Hodgson will face plenty of selection problems for his 23-man squad.
The issue of selection has been be compounded by the issue of Manchester United midfielder Adnan Januzaj. The Belgian has been sounded out by the FA about representing England, but must become a naturalised citizen before he can become available for selection. Having refused calls from Belgium boss Marc Wilmots, it would appear Januzaj is at least interested in exploring the option, with his native Kosovo not a recognised FIFA state.
It has sparked discussion on the subject of quite how British some sportspeople are, but with England’s cricket and Rugby Union sides flush with imports, it might be time that football joined in.