England Can Use 1997 to Silence 18,000 Poland Fans and Qualify for World Cup
No matter who is to blame for Poland being handed 18,000 tickets for supporters at the crucial World Cup qualifier at Wembley Stadium on Tuesday, England can still use the lessons of history to secure the win they require to qualify for the World Cup finals.
England manager Roy Hodgson claims the Football Association was "virtually forced" to give such a large amount of tickets to Poland supporters due to safety concerns, as Jack De Menezes of The Independent reported.
FA director of communications Scott Field told Sky Sports News that the decision to grant Poland supporters double their FIFA-approved allocation was done to avoid opposition fans buying tickets among England fans.
However, in the same Sky Sports report, Met Police match commander chief superintendent Colin Morgan insisted that the police had not been behind the decision on the allocation.
The whole scenario over who is responsible is merely a sideshow, though.
England need a win against Poland to ensure qualification for the World Cup finals in Brazil next year. Their nearest challengers, Ukraine, are playing in what is effectively a "banker" at San Marino—who have failed to register a point in Group H, scored just once and conceded 46 goals.
It is not rocket science to suggest that an England victory will suffice.
Of course, England have been here before. In 1973, Sir Alf Ramsey and his team were expected to claim the win they needed against the Poles to qualify for the 1974 finals in West Germany. However, they fell flat when opposition goalkeeper Jan Tomaszewski produced a remarkable display to seal a draw and progress for his country.
More recently, Croatia came to haunt England as they attempted to find a route to the European Championship finals in 2008.
But a 3-2 defeat at Wembley left England outside looking in at the tournament, while Slaven Bilic took his Croatian team to Austria and Switzerland instead.
History, though, says a partisan crowd can help England in vital World Cup qualifiers.
Under Ron Greenwood, England suffered humbling defeats at Norway and Switzerland in their qualification group.
A famous Norwegian commentary following the defeat in Oslo referred to England's most famous figures—Margaret Thatcher, in particular: "your boys took one hell of a beating." There is no doubt that the group was a harsh lesson for everyone involved (clip courtesy of YouTube.com).
England went to Budapest a week after the loss in Switzerland. They promptly defeated group leaders Hungary 3-1 in the Nep Stadium before a Wembley victory over the same opposition in the final qualifier ensured passage to the 1982 finals in Spain.
Hoddle had suffered his first defeat as England manager at the hands of a Gianfranco Zola-inspired Italian team at Wembley in February 1997 (clip courtesy of YouTube.com).
By the time of the final qualifier, England had regained a slight edge. However, a defeat in Rome in front of a partisan home crowd would have pushed Hoddle's team into the play-offs.
Under the former Tottenham midfielder, England were learning a new style of play, holding possession and building patiently. It was a tactic which paid huge dividends in the Italian capital.
Paul Gascoigne made his final competitive appearance for England in that game, while the image of a bloodied Paul Ince celebrating the 0-0 draw and Ian Wright striking the post are a part of folklore for the national team.
Even the last-gasp header from Christian Vieri, which seemed destined for goal in the closing stages before flying over the crossbar, appeared to be part of the plan.
And who advised Hoddle on that famous night in the Italian capital as well as acting as an interpreter for the Italian media? Step forward, Roy Hodgson.
England and Hoddle had succeeded in one of the most hostile environments in world football, the Olympic Stadium in Rome against Italy.
The presence of 18,000 Poland supporters at Wembley Stadium on Tuesday will pale into insignificance in comparison.
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