Without wanting to sound too arrogant but England’s qualification was more-than wrapped up after Thursday evening’s results.
Victory over San Marino was of course never in doubt. Switzerland’s loss in Slovenia last night really means there is no way England will not finish in the top two of this group. Although, frankly, even after the shambolic performance at the World Cup this summer, I always expected a breeze through qualification.
England now have a six-point lead over Switzerland after two games and a three-point lead over Slovenia who lost their opening game in Estonia.
Roy Hodgson targeted 13 goals against San Marino and Estonia combined this week. That was perhaps on his mind when clips of him in his seat during last night’s 5-0 win over San Marino were more of frustration that enjoyment.
Not that anyone could enjoy such a boring game of football. As someone who regularly watches more than 300 football matches a season, I like to think of myself as a passionate football fan. I enjoy 99% of the matches I watch, often even if my team doesn’t win (it’s rare that Derby lose to our biggest rivals).
Last night’s game was dull from minute one. The result was never in doubt, it was just a case of how many England were going to score and if Joe Hart was going to touch the ball. Qualification in truth has rarely hit the highs. England have made it dramatic in drawing in Italy, scoring a last minute goal against Greece, thrashing Germany 5-1 in Munich and the disaster of Euro 2008. Other than that – have there been any memorable moments over the past 20 years?
International football for me has taken the backstage to the Premier League and UEFA Champions League in order of priorities. The qualification process is often a long, drawn out bore and not just for England. Spain, Germany and the Netherlands often breeze their groups too. Now that Euro 2016 has been downgraded (yes, downgraded) to a 24-team tournament, two teams make it through each qualifying group automatically (therefore Spain’s loss last night is no big deal. Portugal losing their two away games this week would be).
Euro 2016 itself sees 24 teams in the group stage and 16 teams in the kn0ck-out rounds. This simply means the stronger nations can rest their key players for the latter stages and rotate to avoid suspensions. The chance of ‘another Greece 2004’ just got harder.
England, a country that once embraced international football, has started to find more exciting things to do. Attendance for the last two international games have been Wembley are significantly down on qualification for the 2014 World Cup. English fans used to embarrass all other European countries with their incredible crowds (France were in the vicinity, I guess we shouldn’t be too harsh on them) and now international football is becoming a bore to them too.
Enjoy watching England beat Estonia on Sunday, and we should go on and win the majority, if not all of the remaining qualification matches, even with Roy Hodgson in charge! With odds of 1/4 for England to win on Sunday, it may be worth looking out for enhanced odds offers on the likes of bet365 mobile which can make things a little more interesting!
At least the Premier League returns next weekend, quickly followed by the Champions League – those, most of us can agree on, are the most important competitions in football.