The Preliminary Draw was widely adjudged to have smiled on England, with bookmakers immediately making them odds-on favourites to top Group H. Nonetheless, the Three Lions would do well to heed some historical warnings before they begin booking flights for Brazil 2014.
Points have, after all, been dropped to both Ukraine and Montenegro in recent prelimininary campaigns, while Poland were famously responsible for a rare English qualifying failure in 1974. Few will envisage a similar slip-up this time around, but while Moldova and San Marino are unlikely to threaten the top spots, none of the leading quartet can be discounted.
Although underperforming at FIFA World Cups™ remains a source of major frustration, England rarely fall short when it comes to qualifying. They have been represented at seven of the last eight editions and enjoyed a straightforward route to South Africa 2010, guaranteeing their place with two games to spare. Nonetheless, the Brazil 2014 preliminary campaign will represent a tough first test for whoever replaces Fabio Capello, the Italian having re-iterated his intention to step down after UEFA EURO 2012. Capello’s advice for his successor has been to treat every Group H game “like a final”, and if England hit the expected heights, it is difficult to envisage anyone else winning the section.
Ukraine: They inflicted England’s only defeat during the 2010 preliminaries and are once again benefitting from the leadership of Oleg Blokhin, who famously led them to the 2006 quarter-finals in their first-ever FIFA World Cup appearance.
Poland: Added intrigue emanates from the presence of Poland, with whom the Ukrainians are co-hosting EURO 2012, and the Poles will be desperate to improve on a dismal 2010 qualifying campaign.
Montenegro: One of European football’s emerging forces, and having drawn twice with England during EURO 2012 qualifying, this talented team - lauded as “wonderful” by Capello - will be relishing the challenge of facing the Three Lions once again.
Players to watch
Wayne Rooney, Joe Hart (ENG), Artem Milevskiy (UKR), Robert Lewandowski (POL), Mirko Vucinic (MNE)
A look back
England 1-1 Poland, 17 October 1973, Wembley Stadium, London
One of the most infamous matches in the history of England’s national team, this Jan Tomaszewski-inspired draw took Poland to the 1974 FIFA World Cup at the Three Lions’ expense. Tomaszewski had been described by Brian Clough as "a circus clown in gloves" before kick-off, but went on to give a goalkeeping masterclass, securing the point that took the Poles to West Germany, and effectively ended the England reign of Sir Alf Ramsey.
9 – Just nine seconds were on the clock when San Marino’s Davide Gualtier shocked England with the fastest goal ever seen in FIFA World Cup qualifying. The Three Lions, however, went on to win that 1993 encounter 7-1, and San Marino remain the only European team never to have won a FIFA World Cup qualifier.
Did you know?
Ukraine icon Andriy Shevchenko has 26 goals to his name in FIFA World Cup qualifying, making him the European Zone’s all-time record goalscorer.
Have your say
Which of England’s group rivals pose the Three Lions’ greatest threat?