Steve McClaren knows all too well about the hazards of international tournament qualification. England’s Wembley defeat to Croatia in late 2007 was the culmination of a disastrous tenure that put paid to European Championship hopes, and broke the hearts of a nation.
Talking ahead of England’s crucial World Cup qualifier in Montenegro tonight, McClaren, who was infamously dubbed ‘the Wally with a Brolly’, believes that Roy Hodgson’s men have the ability and character to return to these shores with all three points.
The coach, who was appointed in 2006 to replace the outgoing Sven-Goran Erikkson, doesn’t consider the hosts an easy target however, and warns the current squad against the complacency that cost England dear during his own ill-fated Euro 2008 campaign.
McClaren said: “Of course they can win the game, without a shadow of doubt and they’re capable of doing that. It’s a great test of their mentality, combating the outside elements like the atmosphere, fans and the on-field intimidation from playing these big European teams.
“These kind of teams are very dangerous because technically and tactically they are very good. When you play away the atmosphere is electric and England will have to deal with the noise generated by the home fans. They are very proud people and that passion feeds into the team.”
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The ex-Middlesbrough boss, who led the Teeside club to League Cup glory and within a whisker of the Uefa Cup, had the shortest reign of any England coach in history. He revealed that the departure was “the saddest day of his career”, but feels that his own failures, as well as his successor Fabio Capello’s disappointing World Cup showing has lowered the intense anticipation held by the public with regards to their national team.
“It is enormous, the external pressures and handling the expectations, but I have noticed a significant shift in the attitude of the media and even when I talk to supporters,” he continued. “People have looked at the past and see that we haven’t qualified, only got to the last 16, or quarter finals and are realising that we can’t be expected to beat everybody or to go to tournaments and win them.”
England are two points behind tonight’s opponents, and anything less than a victory would leave Three Lions fans biting their nails until the next round of games this autumn. That infamous match against Croatia six years ago is still fresh in the memory for most supporters, but the man who could only watch on in the rain that evening believes the current occupier of the heaviest blazer in international football has the shoulders to take it.
“Roy has international experience, and has come in and steadied the ship. He can deal with the expectations of The FA, the fans and the media. You get a honeymoon period but the Montenegro game is a big game, it’s a defining game for Roy and the team. It is hurdle to get over in terms of temperament and character,” he considered.
“Every England player must be aware that to reach their potential, they have to play with emotional control, discipline and make sure England do not have to play a game with ten men."
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