ANXIOUS England manager Roy Hodgson has told his players they must forget about the safety net of a play-off place and finalise World Cup qualification with a win against Poland tonight.
England’s 4-1 victory against Montenegro on Friday guarantees them a top-two finish in Group H, regardless of tonight’s score at Wembley.
But with only the group winners able to book their plane tickets to Brazil in the morning and second-placed Ukraine virtually assured of three points against minnows San Marino tonight, Hodgson has reiterated the importance of a victory.
“I won’t be particularly satisfied if we don’t win and know that we go in to the play-offs,” he said.
“The attitude will be one of, this is our game, our stadium, these are our fans, we are a good team and we are going to win. I am pretty sure that is how they will approach it.
“I have great faith and trust in the players. But I am a worrier. I still feel the tension and focus.
“It’s not that you are worried the team is not capable, it’s just that you are worried something untoward might happen.”
Hodgson is forced to make at least one change from the side that beat Montenegro with right-back Kyle Walker missing through suspension. Injured Liverpool defender Glen Johnson was not named in the original 23-man squad, so either Phil Jones or Chris Smalling, both of Manchester United, is expected to deputise.
Meanwhile, Tottenham winger Andros Townsend marked a man of the match performance on his England debut on Friday with a goal, but picked up a knock in the game and is Hodgson’s only fresh injury concern.
“To lose two right-backs is a serious blow,” Hodgson added. “There are not too many countries in the world that can produce three players of the same quality to play in the same position. We are no different.
“The loss of Walker is a blow, not least of all because of his understanding with Andros.
“Luckily there are other players who can go in and do a very good job.
“I can only hope they will develop a good enough understanding on the night to make certain we have the same threat down the right wing as we did on Friday.”
If England win...
It’s Copacabana here we come. The Three Lions will have completed their Group H campaign unbeaten and will finish first. Only top spot guarantees qualification to the World Cup finals in Brazil next summer.
If England draw...
Attention turns to Serravalle where San Marino host Ukraine. A Ukraine win would send England into a two-legged play-off. Ukraine beat the same opposition 9-0 last month, but draw or lose and Roy Hodgson can open the champagne.
If England lose...
Same scenario as a draw. Hodgson’s men will be left hoping for a miraculous result from San Marino, the lowest ranked team in the world who are yet to pick up a point in qualifying and have scored just once.