ENGLAND are in a tough qualifying group for next summer’s World Cup. But I remember my own experiences in 2002 when I was a Leeds United player and we were in a really difficult group with Sweden, Argentina and Nigeria and still qualified.
We weren’t expected to beat Argentina at all and while we face Italy and Uruguay next summer, we might just come up with a win. You never know.
Overall, our group is tough to call. I’d put Uruguay as favourites and then England and Italy as neck-and-neck in second behind them. The final group game between Italy and Uruguay could also be interesting and it could be that both need a draw – and if that is the case, I would put a lot of money on a draw. Simple as that.
Five points is usually enough to qualify and four points, if we are lucky, might be.
Looking at England’s qualifying group, it’s a group of ‘almost death’ isn’t it...? There were two or three harder groups we could have been in, but equally a few groups that were much easier.
But while it won’t be easy against especially Italy and Uruguay, I think there will be a massive amount of realism among the English public and expectations will be slightly lowered.
If we had got an easy group, everybody would have expected us to win it. And let’s face it, England have never dealt with the expectation to win particularly well. Look at 2010...
Personally, I actually do think that it is a touch fortunate that our first game is in Manaus, although I know a lot of people won’t have been keen on that.
For me, the first games of World Cups can be cagey and tense. So if England can get a draw against Italy, it could set us up.
In terms of the next game against Uruguay, a draw would be a decent result. They leaves us with Costa Rica, who you would expect us to beat.
Obviously, we play Costa Rica in our final game. It could be that things go down to goal difference say between us and Italy and it might depend on how many we score against them, assuming Uruguay win all their games and we draw with Italy.
But looking at Costa Rica, they could well put up a performance against somebody. Hopefully not us.
For me, the last thing I would have wanted was Costa Rica in the opener in Manaus. That would have been disastrous because if we say drew them there, we would have been really up against it.
England’s side of the draw isn’t particularly easy. If they do finish second in the group, they are likely to face Colombia in the first knockout round, which won’t be easy. After that, it’s likely to be Brazil, Holland, Spain or Italy in the quarters. Seriously, I don’t see England going beyond that.
If we get out of the group and get a bit of momentum into the quarter-final stage, fair enough.
But getting out of the group will be very difficult.
Before South Africa, Brazil were the only team to win a World Cup outside their own continent, so it will be difficult for the European teams. Playing in South America is a big plus for Brazil and Argentina for me.
Personally, I don’t see beyond Brazil and Argentina and probably Spain and Germany to win the competition.
It will be a fascinating World Cup, that’s for sure.
The dread-factor group was the one which Croatia went into with Brazil and what England nearly did.
But that doesn’t look like a bad group with the rest of the teams in Group A beatable in Croatia, Mexico and Cameroon. I think the toughest group is the one with Spain, Holland, Chile and Australia.
If England had been drawn in that, it would have been horrendous.