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England Far from World Cup Qualification with Disappointing Roy Hodgson Tactics

KIEV, UKRAINE - SEPTEMBER 10:  Roy Hodgson the England manager looks on during the FIFA 2014 World Cup Qualifying Group H match between Ukraine and England at the Olympic Stadium on September 10, 2013 in Kiev, Ukraine.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
Clive Rose/Getty Images
Karl MatchettFeatured ColumnistSeptember 10, 2013

First off, congratulations to England for going top of their World Cup qualifying group with the home stretch in sight.

Next, congratulations to any fans who managed to stay glued to the screen—or even awake—for the entire 90 minutes of another soulless, tempo-free performance from the national team under Roy Hodgson.

All right, the bottom line is England got the job done against Ukraine in Kiev. They avoided defeat and kept up their impressive defensive record, the second best in the UEFA qualifying zones out of the sides who have played eight games.

However, they've also left themselves with two tough jobs to do in their final home fixtures, thanks to an inability to find victories often enough. Eight games, four wins and four draws is the poorest record for any current group-topper, and considering the relatively modest opposition they are up against, fans should be expecting far better from England.

Hodgson and his men face Montenegro and Poland at Wembley in October, both nations that they failed to beat away.

A win against either country will put that team out of the running for the automatic qualification spot for the 2014 World Cup, but England will likely have to win both to ensure they get it themselves.

Ukraine vs. Poland will also be a key fixture.

Should the home side win that game—and Ukraine must surely be more positive, attack-minded and intent on victory in that match than they were against England—they will almost certainly end the campaign on 21 points. Their last game against San Marino is basically an automatic three points, and that will obligate England to take victories from both their final games.

Looking at England's own first match, if they only manage another draw against Montenegro, Hodgson will be under real pressure.

Montenegro play Moldova in their final game—another three-point banker—and will be just one point behind England as they head into the Poland fixture.

Plenty of ifs and buts, but that's exactly the point.

England should already have had this group wrapped up. While an away draw against Ukraine is understandable, the home game should have been a win. Further draws in Poland and Montenegro underlined England's lack of domination in a group which they have been woefully inadequate in tackling.

If not exactly negative in their play, England nonetheless have utterly lacked any real conviction or willingness to completely take the game to their opponents, even against the likes of Moldova, who were allowed to defend in relative comfort at 4-0 down.

Team selection has also been questionable, as have the manager's substitutions, which far too often were designed with safety-first in mind when a game is clearly there for the taking.

The match against Ukraine was symptomatic of this: Jermain Defoe has netted almost 20 goals at international level, yet was not called upon in an attempt to win the match. Tom Cleverley was given three minutes to make any kind of impact from a right-sided position that he has not occupied in months at club level.

Selecting James Milner from the start hardly garnered a wealth of public support, either, yet with pacy and inventive young attackers on the bench and just two shots on target all match, safety-first remained the policy of Hodgson and his side.

Qualification for the World Cup is still in England's hands, but they've played themselves into a corner where winning their final two games is now the only option.

Slip up just once, and an unenviable playoff spot may well be the very best Hodgson and his men can hope for.

The 2014 World Cup party is looming, but England's invitation is far from certain even at this late hour, and despite them topping their group just a month before the end of the qualification stage.

 

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