England looked impressive against Moldova, but have no room for error in Ukraine today, says Amar Azam.
Tomorrow night's match against Ukraine, the result of which could have a major impact on whether England qualify for next summer’s World Cup, comes a week after new Football Association chairman Greg Dyke outlined his aspirations for the national side.
He spoke positively and with real passion, even if many wouldn’t consider his target of England winning the tournament in 2022 as realistic.
However when you consider England’s record since 1990, the last time they went beyond the final eight in the World Cup, and then look at the way that European rivals — France, Spain and Germany to name three — have transformed the way they produce players, it comes as a stark reminder of how much work England have to do.
Before then, England have four major tournaments, including Brazil in 2014.
England’s World Cup qualification fate this time around very much lies very much with the outcome of tomorrow’s match, and a tough one it is expected to be too.
They top Group H on goal difference, but defeat in Ukraine could mean that they will need victories in their remaining matches, at home to Montenegro and Poland, in October.
Roy Hodgson’s men are depleted in numbers and that provides real concern. They travel to Ukraine shorn of firepower.
Danny Welbeck misses out through suspension with Daniel Sturridge, whose goals have propelled his club Liverpool to the top of the league table, has been ruled out through injury. With Wayne Rooney also missing, it leaves Rickie Lambert and Jermain Defoe as the only strikers in the squad.
Against Moldova on Friday night, England were strong.
There were stand-out performances. Arsenal’s young midfielder Jack Wilshere was inventive and dynamic, Welbeck too. The Manchester United man was smart in possession and a constant threat. He deserved his brace.
The opposition were limited, but you can, of course, only beat what’s put in front of you. England did just that and did relatively well. Furthermore, these two players looked comfortable with international football.
When you do assess the number of English players coming through, the future doesn’t look so grim. Everton’s Ross Barkley came on and played well. Tottenham Hotspur winger Andros Townsend is another impressing at his club.
Against Ukraine, however, England will need all the experience they can muster. Captain Steven Gerrard, who scored the opening goal against Moldova, and Frank Lampard demonstrated why they have won the number of caps they have.
The Chelsea midfielder, who made his debut against Belgium in 1999, could reach the landmark 100 cap figure if he features.
These two players, legends at their respective clubs, formed part of the generation of English players that should have taken us all the way. For both, the World Cup next year will surely herald the end of their international careers.