Breaking Down England's World Cup Qualifiers in 2013
England's national team will head into 2013 knowing they face six key games in trying to reach the FIFA World Cup which takes place in Brazil the following year.
Currently ranked second in Group H behind Montenegro, England have taken eight points from their four matches, having won two and drawn two so far.
The remaining six games need to yield enough points to secure top spot in the group for automatic qualification, otherwise England will be reduced to a two-legged qualifier, potentially against very strong opposition.
Here's how 2013 will unfold for England...
San Marino and Montenegro Double-Header
Roy Hodgson has a quick chance to pick up three points when England face San Marino away in March. The minnows of European football have yet to pick up a single point in qualifying and will not be expected to present any difficulty to England.
A 5-0 win first time around in London showed the gulf in sides and the nation will expect a similar result in the away fixture.
Meanwhile Montenegro—two points ahead of England—face a tricky trip to Moldova.
They could certainly pick up full points, but England are perfectly placed to take full advantage if they slip up. Just a few days later, England face another away game as they, indeed, take on the group leaders.
It's easy to say England need to win that game to take control of the group—but in reality, merely avoiding defeat will be enough.
If England draw then they will likely be top of the group on goal difference, while still having to host Montenegro at Wembley near the end of the qualifying campaign.
Home to Moldova in September...
Quite simply a game England will expect to win.
Moldova are a better-organised side than San Marino and have a greater talent pool to choose from but will still not be in the contenders for the top two spots. England have won one and drawn one of their home matches so far—the Moldova match should make it two victories from three.
...Before Crunch clash with Ukraine
Just four days after the game against Moldova, England travel to Eastern Europe to face Ukraine in a match that was expected to be the deciding fixture of the group.
The two sides drew 1-1 at Wembley, but Ukraine blew their good start by drawing in Moldova and losing at home to Montenegro. That sequence of results leaves Ukraine one place off the bottom of Group H with just two points.
Ukraine face four group fixtures before the England game so could certainly haul themselves back into the reckoning for a top two spot, but they will absolutely have to beat England to stand a chance.
England, on the other hand, will need to pick up a result themselves; some mediocre away form under Roy Hodgson so far will have to be improved. However, should they defeat Montenegro away in September then they might be able to warrant only drawing this particular fixture.
Either way, this will be a very telling game in the scheme of the group.
Montenegro and Poland to Finish Campaign
To end the qualifying campaign, England face back-to-back home games against Montenegro and Poland.
Where will England end their FIFA World Cup 2014 qualifying group?
They are the two teams directly above and below England at present in the group, and Roy Hodgson's men will need to win both games to ensure they qualify from Group H in top spot.
Playing both fixtures at home should be a bonus for the Three Lions; they have to ensure that the players chosen are capable of taking maximum points and not merely avoiding defeat to see out the group.
England do not have a particularly demanding group in comparison to the likes of Spain and France being paired together, Russia and Portugal or Belgium, Serbia and Croatia.
It is likely that Hodgson needs to win five of his six qualifying games in 2013 to win top spot, or at the very least win four and avoid defeat in the other two games.
Achieve this, and England's fans and players will be enjoying a truly special occasion in the summer of 2014 as they aim for glory in Brazil, one of football's spiritual homes.
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