They may have eventually scored five goals, but it was far from a five-star performance as England huffed and puffed to overcome lowly San Marino at Wembley on Friday night.
If games against the side ranked by FIFA as joint worst in the world are something of dead rubbers in international football, then the Three Lions will have to raise their game ahead of a tricky trip to Poland.
The Poles are suffering a post-Euro 2012 hangover following their elimination at the group stages on home soil. Waldemar Fornalik has assumed the managerial mantle from Franciszek Smuda but a defeat to Estonia, a draw in Montenegro and an ugly and unconvincing win against Moldova has barely lifted the gloom.
While England were labouring past San Marino, the ‘White Eagles’ were doing likewise against South Africa, albeit without their talented Borussia Dortmund trio of Lukasz Piszczek, Jakub Blaszczykowski and Robert Lewandowski.
Piszczek and Lewandowski are expected to return to face England at the National Stadium in Warsaw but below them there’s a dearth of genuine class in the ranks and bwin’s 3way football betting market has the visitors as 87/100 favourites for the win, with Poland at 31/10 and the draw 12/5.
Trips to Poland are probably made to feel more daunting by Danny Dyer skulking around nervously on a terrace, smoking a cigarette and telling people how ‘mad’ the place is, but in the comfort of a range of state-of-the-art modern stadia the Poles have only lost one of their last 11 on their own patch – although opposition has been limited.
It’s also somewhat of a myth given credence by Jan ‘The Clown’ Tomaszewski’s 1973 Wembley heroics that England routinely struggle to beat the Poles, yet the only Polish win in the fixture actually came earlier in ’73 in Warsaw.
Since then, England have drawn four and won two of six trips east and I think they’ll extend that sequence by full-time tonight with a narrow win.
Although the national team have been fairly uninspiring under Roy Hodgson, they have remained resilient and resourceful and haven’t lost in 90 minutes under his ten-game stewardship, conceding just five goals.
In my opinion, the Three Lions have got about as much chance as San Marino of winning the 2014 World Cup in Brazil but they can at least take another step towards getting there by picking up another three points from (theoretically) one of their toughest challenges.
Poland have only scored 14 goals in their last 12 home games – with four of those coming against Andorra – and without the industrious Blaszczykowski roaming down the right, I can see Lewandowski being starved of the sort of service he requires to trouble Joe Hart and company. Therefore, I’ll be exploring what best to do with an England win and clean sheet.
For a start, an England win with under 2.5 goals – which effectively covers the one and two nil victories – is well priced at 29/10, with Hodgson’s men to win to nil at 19/10.
You can also have the multiple correct score of 1-0, 2-0 and 3-0 and more than double your money at 21/10, although I will be going more precise and lumping on a 2-0 England win at a fantastic price of 15/2.
New customers who open an account with bwin are entitled to a free £20 bet and putting that on a 2-0 England win will rocket your balance to £170.
England are also a massive 17/4 to win both halves so if you don’t fancy them to do that but still to win the game, there’s value in the half-time/full-time market, with the visitors 37/20 to be leading at half and full-time or 4/1 to win following a drawn first half.