Capello not complacent as England avoid the travel and the glamour

 

For once Fabio Capello's English was spot on. Having considered the opposition in their 2014 World Cup qualifying group, Capello observed: "It will not be easy, but I think that England is better than the other teams."

The caveat is understandable. Capello knows it rarely is "easy" with England. While at Saturday's draw in Rio de Janeiro he was reminded of one reason for this, the propensity of key players to be injured. News reached him that Steven Gerrard was unlikely to figure in England's next two Euro 2012 qualifiers after suffering an infection in his groin. The Liverpool midfielder, who had groin surgery in March, had been in hospital to undergo a course of antibiotics.

Gerrard, who last played for England in November, is not expected to be back for his club until September so is almost certain to miss England qualifiers in Bulgaria on 2 September and at home to Wales four days later. He will also miss Liverpool's opening three league matches of the season, against Sunderland, Arsenal and Bolton, but could return for the game with Stoke on 10 September. At least Kenny Dalglish has a raft of midfielders to choose from having added Charlie Adam, Stewart Downing and Jordan Henderson to a squad which also has Alberto Aquilani back from loan.

Capello, who had to do without Gerrard and Wayne Rooney when England were held to a draw by Switzerland at Wembley in their last qualifier in June, said: "It is not good news. Steven Gerrard is a very important player for us. It's been a long time this injury. I hope he will return quickly because he's one of the players that makes the difference on the pitch."

Capello will hope Gerrard is back for England's final qualifier, away to Montenegro on 7 October. The tie has taken on greater significance after the teams were paired in European zone Group H at the 2014 qualifying draw. Ukraine, Poland, Moldova and San Marino make up a group that looks negotiable, if unglamourous.

Capello will hope his assertion that "England is better than the other teams" survives the tie in Podgorica. Montenegro, having held England reasonably comfortably at Wembley in October, are level with England at the head of Group G. Defeat could plunge England into a play-off (possible opponents include Sweden and Russia) and deal a psychological blow ahead of the 2014 World Cup qualifiers.

England will at least be forewarned when they face Montenegro in the World Cup qualifiers, and may also gain further experience of conditions in Poland and Ukraine should they reach Euro 2012, as those countries are joint-hosting the event.

Of England's opponents only Montenegro (17th) are in the world's top 40 and none were at the last World Cup. Those with long memories, of Jan Tomaszewski in 1973, should bear in mind the Poles are more weary of drawing England than vice-versa. Though paired in six qualifying campaigns since, Poland have not beaten England and the only time England failed to qualify (World Cup 1994) Holland and Norway went through, not them.

The group involves some travelling, but the FA are relieved long-haul journeys – to countries such as Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan – have been avoided along with Turkey and Israel, trips which would have involved security issues. England are also happy not to have to face other British Isles opposition and delighted not to be paired with France. That was a 50-50 possibility as the draw due to a close. The French, who were easy winners at Wembley in November, will instead meet Spain.

That does raise the spectre of meeting France or Spain in the play-offs. All the more reason for Capello's successor to hope England top their group and qualify for Brazil automatically.

Lowdown on England's opponents

Montenegro

Ranked 17th in the world, Zlatko Kranjcar's side drew with England at Wembley in their qualifying group for Euro 2012. One of the newest nations in Uefa, the first competition they tried (and failed) to qualify for was last year's World Cup.

Star player Stevan Jovetic (21, attacking midfielder, Fiorentina)



Ukraine

Co-hosts of next summer's European Championships, Ukraine beat England 1-0 in Dnipro in qualifying for the last World Cup, but Fabio Capello's men defeated them 2-1 at Wembley.

Star player Yaroslav Rakitskiy (21, defender, Shakhtar Donetsk)



Poland

Familiar opponents for England; their meetings chart back to 1973 when goalkeeper Jan Tomaszewski denied Alf Ramsey's side the chance of reaching the 1974 finals. Now weaker and may not have qualified for Euro 2012 had they not been co-hosts.

Star player Robert Lewandowski, (22, striker, Borussia Dortmund)



Moldova

The nation against whom midfielder David Beckham won his first international cap in a 3-0 win in September 1996. Now ranked 85th in the world, they finished last in their 2010 qualification group without a win in10 games.

Star player Alexandru Epureanu (24, defender, Dynamo Moscow)



San Marino

The worst team in the competition, ranked 203, they have only ever won one match: 1-0 v Liechtenstein in 2004. And former England manager Graham Taylor will doubtless remember seeing Davide Gualtieri scoring after 8.3 seconds in a qualifier in 1993 against his England side, who recovered to win 7-1.

Star player Andy Selva (35, Hellas Verona, forward).

The Groups

Group A Croatia, Serbia, Belgium, Scotland, Macedonia, Wales.

Group B Italy, Denmark, Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Armenia, Malta.

Group C Germany, Sweden, Republic of Ireland, Austria, Faroe Islands, Kazakhstan.

Group D Netherlands, Turkey, Hungary, Romania, Estonia, Andorra.

Group E Norway, Slovenia, Switzerland, Albania, Cyprus, Iceland.

Group F Portugal, Russia, Israel, Northern Ireland, Azerbaijan, Luxembourg.

Group G Greece, Slovakia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Lithuania, Latvia, Liechtenstein.

Group H England, Montenegro, Ukraine, Poland, Moldova, San Marino.

Group I Spain, France, Belarus, Georgia, Finland.

Other continents

Africa: Only five will qualify after the 10 group winners pair off into five play-offs

Concacaf: USA and Mexico are common qualifiers and are unlikely to miss 2014. They will be joined by one other nation, with the fourth best playing off against the Oceania qualifier.

Asia: Featuring Australia, South Africa, Japan, China and Arab nations. Top four from final groups qualify and fifth best plays off against a South American team.

Oceania: Zone winner will play the fourth best nation in the Concacaf region for a place in the finals.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

Heavy weather

What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

World Bodypainting Festival 2015

Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

Don't call us nerds

Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high
How to find gold: The Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge

How to find gold

Steve Boggan finds himself in the Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge
Singing accents: From Herman's Hermits and David Bowie to Alesha Dixon

Not born in the USA

Lay off Alesha Dixon: songs sound better in US accents, even our national anthem
10 best balsamic vinegars

10 best balsamic vinegars

Drizzle it over salad, enjoy it with ciabatta, marinate vegetables, or use it to add depth to a sauce - this versatile staple is a cook's best friend
Wimbledon 2015: Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

Serena dispatched her elder sister 6-4, 6-3 in eight minutes more than an hour
Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

Greece referendum

Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

7/7 bombings anniversary

Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

Versace haute couture review

Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

No hope and no jobs in Gaza

So the young risk their lives and run for it
Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

Fashion apps

Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy