Last night's draw in Bulgaria, when England led through Alan Shearer after 14 minutes, were pegged back and then failed to capitalise on playing 10 men for most of the second half, leaves them needing to defeat Luxembourg on 4 September, and Poland on 8 September. Only that combination will ensure they reach the play-offs. They would then have to defeat another runner-up, which could be someone like France or Germany, to gain a place in next summer's European Championship in Belgium and the Netherlands.
Should England draw in Poland they would then need the Poles to be held to a draw in Sweden on 9 October. Should England lose narrowly in Poland, they will need Poland to lose against Sweden. Should they lose heavily, they would be out.
Enough of the mathematics, what about the football? It was better than against Sweden on Saturday, especially during the first half, but ultimately England again looked short of ideas and inspiration. By the end they were hoofing the ball at Emile Heskey and hoping for a lucky break. As Alan Shearer admitted: "We didn't create, we didn't pass the ball. There is the will to win but the passing isn't good enough."
There were another clutch of bookings, for Robbie Fowler, Gareth Southgate, Teddy Sheringham and Sol Campbell. There are now so many players on a yellow card, should England make the play-offs, that they could have half a team suspended.
The plusses included Shearer's first goal in open play since the World Cup, an admirable debut from the composed Jonathon Woodgate and a promising display by Michael Gray in his first start. The minuses were the usual suspects; a lack of invention in midfield, the inability of players to go past opponents and a poor delivery of crosses. While Jamie Redknapp was seeing plenty of possession he never opened up the Bulgarians and, with Sheringham peripheral and Fowler rusty, England rarely tested the impressive Dimitar Ivankov in the home goal.
England had started brightly and seemed to have gained reward when Redknapp, from 25 yards out, scored with a spectacular free-kick only to have it ruled out as the Dutch referee, Mario van der Ende, had been attending to some penalty box argy-bargy.
Three minutes later England's fortune turned. A quickly taken throw-in by Sol Campbell released Gray on the left and he crossed deep to the far post. Rosen Kirilov, under pressure from Fowler, only half-cleared it, allowing Shearer to seize upon the loose ball, turn quickly and shoot into the corner.
It was his 24th England goal and his 19th in his last 27 starts and it appeared to have set England up for victory. But Hristo Stoichkov, having been feted beforehand, was not going to allow his home international farewell to drift to anti-climax. After attempting to score, hitting a tapped free- kick into a wall of bodies, he created the equaliser from a free-kick conceded by Sol Campbell. Stoichkov whipped the ball to the far post where Georgi Markov got in front of Sheringham to head in for his first international goal. It was only the second goal Bulgaria had scored against England in eight meetings and the first in front of their own fans.
With seven minutes of the half remaining Stoichkov almost set up another. England had been attacking and several players became sucked forward. Campbell lost a challenge and Stoichkov outpaced Southgate before rolling the ball across the six-yard box. Hristo Yovov seemed certain to score but somehow put the ball wide.
Bulgaria continued to press after the break, with passes from Radostin Kishishev twice splitting the England defence. Stoichkov shot over from the first, Woodgate made a magnificent tackle on Martin Petrov from the second.
Then the same Petrov, a half-time substitute, collected two bookings in five minutes, fouling Phil Neville in the 53rd minute, then following through on Campbell after the defender had headed clear. In the context of what had gone before, a second yellow card and dismissal was inevitable. With the crowd in uproar, Stoichkov led the tearful striker off.
Bulgaria's response was to bring on another forward, England's was to go to a flat back four, with Ray Parlour coming on. While Sheringham and Fowler put half-chances wide and Batty brought a diving save from Ivankov, they failed to use their numerical advantage. Instead the best chance fell to the other Petrov, Stilian, who shot rashly over the bar from 20 yards.
This match would have been the end of Keegan's four-match trial and it is a moot point as to whether he would have been offered - or wanted - the job permanently after the last two games. However, he and the FA are now committed to each other and both are reliant on England digging out a result in the Silesian coalfields, just as their predecessors did to qualify for the 1990 World Cup and 1992 Europeans. In those cases, however, they needed to draw, not win.
BULGARIA (3-5-2): Ivankov (Levski Sofia); Markov (Lokomotiv Sofia), Zagorcic (Litex Lovech), Kirilov (Litex Lovech); Kishishev (Litex Lovech), S Petrov (CSKA Sofia), Stoilov (Slavia Sofia), Iliev (Levski Sofia), M Petkov (CSKA Sofia); Stoichkov (Kashiwa Reysol), Yovov (Lokomotiv Sofia). Substitutes: M Petrov (Servette) for Yovov, h-t, Borimirov (TSV Munich 1860) for Iliev, 60; Bachev (Levski Sofia) for Stoichkov, 73
ENGLAND (3-4-2-1): Seaman (Arsenal); Woodgate (Leeds United), Southgate (Aston Villa), Campbell (Tottenham); P Neville (Manchester United), Batty (Leeds United), Redknapp (Liverpool), Gray (Sunderland); Sheringham (Manchester United), Fowler (Liverpool); Shearer (Newcastle United). Substitutes: Parlour (Arsenal) for Woodgate, 68; Heskey (Leicester) for Fowler, 83.
Referee: M van der Ende (Netherlands).
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