It’s make or break - a double header at Wembley against Montenegro and Poland will decide whether England will make the 2014 World Cup in less than a year’s time.
The first of those games drew to a close on Friday night, with a 4-1 victory guiding the Three Lions a step closer to Brazil.
In many ways the scoreline flattered England, but in some ways it didn’t. Admittedly we didn’t completely outclass the visitors, and we may have benefitted from own goals and spot-kicks, but England started to look like a team that could be very dangerous indeed.
After limping over the finish line in Kiev, England needed to match or better their main rivals in the group to ensure automatic qualification.
With Ukraine sealing a narrow victory over the Poles, England were under even more pressure after a frustrating first half had yielded no goals.
However they quickly turned up the heat in the second half and pulled off a convincing victory against Montenegro.
What really stood out though was the attacking nature of Hodgson’s team; debutant Andros Townsend featured on the right of a front four which comprised of United pair Wayne Rooney and Danny Welbeck and in-form Liverpool forward Daniel Sturridge.
The interchangeable quartet carried a threat particularly in the second half and, with a bit more playing time, could become a particularly dangerous force.
Marauding full-backs helped to supplement the front line, and England finally produced an attacking display worthy of beating one of the chasing pack in Group H for the first time this campaign.
However the job isn’t complete just yet; with Ukraine almost surely guaranteed a win over San Marino, who struggle for a goal never mind a win.
England need to win the final fixture against Poland on Tuesday night. Hodgson will need to get his starting XI spot on like he did on Friday, otherwise we could have to settle for the play-offs.
How they’ll line up:
With Kyle Walker suspended, Hodgson will probably introduce either Phil Jones or Chris Smalling to the team sheet to fill in; neither Manchester United player really has a wealth of international experience, but Walker’s booking against Montenegro has forced the England manager’s hand and it is likely the more versatile Jones will get the spot.
However, it is the left side England need to worry about more.
Polish captain Jakub Blaszczykowski is a real danger and will force Leighton Baines to see out a more defensive role on Tuesday.
Following his recent call up to replace the injured Tom Cleverley, there is a case for Liverpool teenager Raheem Sterling to start wide left against Poland; he is more of a natural wide-man than Welbeck, and has the pace to track back and cover Baines while also bombing forward himself and creating chances.
It is a change I wouldn’t have previously considered but, after Hodgson was rewarded in handing a surprise debut to Townsend, who knows.
Apart from that, it is unlikely Hodgson will make many changes.
Gerrard and Lampard performed well in more reserved roles, tasked with shielding the back four and helping out when hit on the counter.
England will also need to be mindful of a certain Robert Lewandowski; the Borussia Dortmund striker will score if given the chance, so the Three Lions need to ensure he is handled with caution.
That, however, does not mean an ultra defensive style is necessary. No more James Milner playing right-wing simply to cover the full-back; wingers are supposed to get forward and attack, and in Townsend - England may have found that man.
Give the front four the freedom to attack, to rotate, and to cause problems for the Poles.
Striking the right balance between defence and attack will be crucial to both keeping out the visitors and guaranteeing goals of our own.
If Hodgson gets the formula right then there is no reason why England can’t win comfortably.
England showed on Friday that they do have a very potent strike-force, and we need it now more than ever to fire us to Rio.
Handling Lewandowski and Blaszczykowski is key but, the two Dortmund players aside, Poland offer little threat and England need to bear in mind that a win is required to progress automatically.
After Friday there is optimism that we can finish the job, and we have a great opportunity to do so: 2-1.
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