England wary as old rivalries renewed

England wary as old rivalries renewed

LONDON • England were drawn with Poland and Hungary in their 2022 World Cup qualifying Group I on Monday – setting up encounters which recall two of the most famous and traumatic nights in the Three Lions’ history.

In 1973, England were held to a 1-1 draw by Poland at Wembley which meant they failed to qualify for the 1974 World Cup – the first time they failed to reach the showpiece tournament.

The heroics of Polish goalkeeper Jan Tomaszewski, who before the game had been described as a “clown” by Brian Clough, working as a TV pundit, haunted the English, who also failed to reach the 1978 World Cup in Argentina.

“There is a great history with that fixture,” said England manager Gareth Southgate. “There was a spell when we seemed to draw them all the time. I remember some of them, I’m old enough to be in that bracket. The Tomaszewski game is obviously a legendary one.”

This will be the seventh time that the two countries meet in World Cup qualifying – most recently for the 2014 edition in Brazil as well as for the 2006, 1998, 1994, 1990 editions.

Hungary inflicted England’s first defeat at Wembley by non-British opponents with their 6-3 win in 1953.

The upset by the Mighty Magyars forced some major tactical rethinking in the English game, especially after Hungary won 7-1 in the reverse fixture in Budapest a year later.

“I’ve heard about those games and they were one of the leading nations at the time,” Southgate said.

Hungarian football has been in the doldrums since, but having qualified for both Euro 2016 and Euro 2020, the team have some exciting talent coming through, like Red Bull Salzburg midfielder Dominik Szoboszlai, who has been linked with a move to Arsenal when the January transfer window opens.

“They’ve got some very good young players coming through actually, they had some good results in the last European Championships and had a good campaign in the recent Nations League,” said Southgate.

The former Middlesbrough boss believes the chance to repeat those feats will fire up their opponents.

    GROUPS TO WATCH

    GROUP A Portugal, Serbia, Republic of Ireland, Luxembourg, Azerbaijan

    GROUP B Spain, Sweden, Greece, Georgia, Kosovo

    GROUP D France, Ukraine, Finland, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kazakhstan

    GROUP I England, Poland, Hungary, Albania, Andorra, San Marino

    GROUP J Germany, Romania, Iceland, North Macedonia, Armenia, Liechtenstein

“All of those nights with England are the opportunity for countries to make history,” he said.

“It’s always an opportunity for those opponents to not only play well to try to beat England but also put themselves on the map with Premier League clubs as well, so there’s always lots of incentives for our opposition.”

There was no group of death in Monday’s draw although world champions France have a tricky path to Qatar, with Group D also comprising Ukraine, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Finland, who beat Les Bleus in a friendly last month.

“A qualifying campaign is always a long road where there can be pitfalls,” coach Didier Deschamps said. “It is better to avoid them.”

The other favourites like Spain, Germany, Portugal, Italy and Belgium are set to come through their groups with ease.

The European qualifiers begin in March, with 13 of the 55 teams going through to the 32-team World Cup.

There will be three rounds of fixtures in March, three more in September and two each in October and November.

Only the winners of the 10 groups will qualify automatically for Qatar 2022, which will take place from November to December.

The 10 runners-up will go into the play-offs alongside the two best Nations League group winners who missed out on qualifying via the traditional path.

Those play-offs, set for March 2022, will produce three more qualifiers in total.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS