The Road To Brazil
A cracking 5-0 victory away to Moldova in September 2012 marked the beginning of England’s path to the World Cup in Brazil next year. Frank Lampard managed a brace (including a penalty) and Jermain Defoe, James Milner and Leighton Baines all found themselves on the score sheet. This Moldova team would go on to hold Ukraine at the Arena Zimbru a month later; San Marino they aren’t.
England managed only a 1-1 draw at Wembley with their next match against Ukraine, Lampard again scoring from the spot to level the match in the dying minutes. San Marino followed, with England again scoring a useful if somewhat unsurprising five; two each from Wayne Rooney and Danny Welbeck and a fifth from Arsenal’s Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
England’s final test of 2012 involved a trip to Warsaw’s Stadion Narodowy in October. Rooney’s goal was nullified by a seventieth minute strike from Polish defender Kamil Glik. A jaunt to San Marino in March this year saw the hosts doing themselves no favours at all, with an own goal from Alessandro Della Valle after just 12 minutes. That was followed by another seven from England, with Defoe netting twice and Oxlade-Chamberlain scoring again.
England could only manage a draw away to a strong Montenegro a few days later. Rooney’s early goal saw them ahead for the majority of the match, but Dejan Damjanovic equalised with a quarter of an hour to go. In September a welcome 4-0 against Moldova at Wembley was followed in short order by a reasonable 0-0 draw away to Ukraine, leaving England with some work to do to qualify.
That work was accomplished with some style in London in October, with a 4-1 win against Montenegro, and a tidy-looking 2-0 against Poland, proving enough to see England top Group H.
Wayne Rooney has been a massive part of this England run, but the standout player of the latter part of the campaign has been Andros Townsend. A selection gamble by manager Roy Hodgson at the time, Townsend now looks like an automatic pick.
Roy Hodgson is one of the most experienced managers in the game, having worked all over Europe for club and national sides, as well as the UAE. He took over at England in May 2012 at a time when many observers thought Harry Redknapp would land the job. A couple of decent performances next year against the big sides should see him being viewed as one of England’s better managers of recent years.