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England face massive test

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Roy Hodgson's men head into the final week of the 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign knowing that anything less than maximum points from their two remaining games may not be enough to see them in the hat for next summer's World Cup in Brazil.

England lead Group H by a single point heading into their final two games against Montenegro and Poland (third and fourth respectively) at Wembley.  With four teams battling for the top two places and only three points separating them with six points left to play for, nothing less than two wins will do for the Three Lions.

England face a stern test against a strong and ever-improving Montenegro side this Friday evening.  The pressure is beginning to mount on Hodgson and his team ahead of his first real test since taking the reigns back in May 2012.  England have proven very hard to beat in the 16 months since Hodgson took charge, with only one defeat, however from those 20 matches, they have only won 11 with eight draws.

A draw in either match could prove costly, with a potential meeting with France in the qualifying play-off's looming should they finish as runners-up in the group.

England can head into the match with confidence though, as for arguably the first time in this qualifying campaign they will have their strongest squad available.  Ashley Cole's injury would mean he is the only exception, with Hodgson now able to call upon the likes of Jack Wilshere, Wayne Rooney, Daniel Sturridge as well as in-form youngsters Andros Townsend and Ross Barkley. The squad is as healthy and strong in depth as it has been for a long time.

Sturridge is currently in red-hot form for Liverpool and leading the Premier League goalscoring charts with six in seven matches for them, while Rooney has started the season in fantastic form for Manchester United with five goals and four assists in all competitions.  They are both likely to start up front together on Friday night for the first time.

There are question marks over goalkeeper Joe Hart's form and confidence at present following some high-profile mistakes in recent weeks, although the word from the England camp is that he is fully focused and will be given a much needed vote of confidence by coach Hodgson, although this is unlikely to stop the Montenegrin players and coaching team from trying to unnerve him ahead of a game of such magnitude.

Ironically, England drew both away fixtures with their two upcoming opponents earlier in the campaign, but these matches will be much different at Wembley.  England can afford to play with a little more freedom and an attacking approach, but there will undoubtedly be some caution in their play with so much at stake.  These matches will prove to be a good measure of how far talent like Sturridge and Wilshere have come, having shown so much potential for a long time now.

Following on from Friday's match they will then face an experienced Polish side on Tuesday, by which point the Poles could be out of the running for top spot in the group as they face a daunting trip to Kiev to face second-placed Ukraine this Friday.  With both teams having so much to play for, it will certainly make for another nervous but hopefully entertaining night of football at Wembley.

Harry Redknapp's controversial comments from his new autobiography and Hart's form are bound to be prominent subjects for the media in Hodgson's pre-match press conference this week but they will be the very least of his concerns ahead of what could prove to be the most pivotal week of his entire managerial career to date and one which could ultimately prove any doubters wrong about his appointment last year.

Hodgson won't need telling that England and it's fans expect nothing less than to qualify for next year's World Cup and that a repeat of their failure to qualify for the World Cup in 1994 and the Euros in 2008 would be a massive backwards step for the national side.

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Topics:
World Cup
Football
England Football

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This article has been written by a member of the GiveMeSport Writing Academy and does not represent the views of GiveMeSport.com or SportsNewMedia. The views and opinions expressed are solely that of the author credited at the top of this article. GiveMeSport.com and SportsNewMedia do not take any responsibility for the content of its contributors.

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