16 Oct 2012

All eyes on Brazil as England take on Poland

England will be hoping for a repeat of 1997 rather than 1973 when they play Poland tonight in a World Cup qualifier.

England will be hoping for a repeat of 1997 rather than 1973 when they play Poland tonight in a World Cup qualifier (Reuters)

In 1997, England beat the Poles 2-0 in a World Cup qualifier in Chorzow, having chalked up a 3-0 win against them at the World Cup finals in 1986.

It was a very different story in 1973, when England suffered a shock defeat at Poland’s hands in Chorzow in another World Cup qualifier – the only occasion this has happened in a competitive match between the two countries.

With their hopes of making it to the finals hanging in the balance, they needed to beat Poland at Wembley to progress.

This was considered a foregone conclusion by many pundits, with Brian Clough famously describing visiting goalkeeper Jan Tomaszewski as a “clown” before the match.

He soon regretted those remarks, Tomaszewski making a series of stunning saves to deny England victory and a place among the elite in West Germany.

In those days, England fans expected success, having won the World Cup in 1966, and defeat was a bitter experience – as subsequent generations have found.

Tomaszewski is now a politician and told the Manchester Evening News that England’s best player was goalkeeper Joe Hart, whom he ranked as among the best in the world.


Tonight, England’s confidence should have been bolstered by the 5-0 demolition of San Marino, officially the worst team in the world, at Wembley on Friday.

But this qualifier, in Warsaw, will provide a sterner test: while Poland are not to be feared, they are unlikely to be a walkover, even if they did crash out of this summer’s European championships they were co-hosting at the group stage.

One player England will have to cope with is Robert Lewandowski, whose face was emblazoned on a Warsaw skyscraper during Euro 2012.

The Borussia Dortmund striker is wanted by some of the top clubs in the Premier League and will be aware that an impressive performance tonight would not do his career prospects any harm.


England are in a good position, top of their group after winning two matches and drawing another, but they cannot afford to be complacent.

Thirteen European teams will make it to Brazil in 2014: nine group winners, plus four winners of play-offs between group runners up.

Finishing as runners up could be risky. Only topping their group gives England an automatic path to the finals.

Several of England’s most experienced players, such as captain Steven Gerrard, were absent from the San Marino game, but are available tonight.

This means manager Roy Hodgson has some decisions to make, but he is happy about this.

“You do get more a selection headache, but all coaches will tell you selection headaches are what we’re after,” he said.