Roy Hodgson dogged by uncertainty ahead of a World Cup England cannot afford to miss

Failure to reach Brazil would be far worse than 2008 flop and the route to Rio is littered with hazards

By the time, the Football Association reaches its 150th anniversary next May it will be on the brink of appointing yet another new chairman, an individual who will once again have to define the role of his organisation within the volatile, high-stakes world of modern English football. Of all the challenges that will face the new man, the one he does not need is doubts over the England team reaching the 2014 World Cup finals.

If Wednesday's World Cup qualifier against Poland felt like it was a significant game in the life of Roy Hodgson's England then the 1-1 draw in Warsaw means that the fixture away to Montenegro in March is even bigger. By then, the side from the tiny former Yugoslav republic – population 625,000, just less than Sheffield – will potentially be top of Group H, given that they have two qualifiers over a period in which England have just one.

Montenegro and England will both play San Marino before they face one other in Podgorica on 26 March. Montenegro play the Sammarinese next month and then Moldova, away, on 22 March. Providing both teams take maximum points from their games, England will find themselves two points behind Montenegro when they come to play them. It is hardly a disastrous state of affairs but it is enough to make the Montenegro match a turning point in the group.

England are still in a strong position but there is not much room for error in their six games remaining in this campaign, of which the away and home games against Montenegro and the matches against Ukraine (away) and Poland (home) are the most difficult. Under Fabio Capello, England drew three games on their way to qualifying top of their group for Euro 2012, and then they played eight games, rather than the 10 they will have in World Cup qualification.

The value of England's point in Poland will emerge when Ukraine go there in March and Montenegro play there in September. The Poles, also unbeaten, remain a force in the group. The problem is that, as Hodgson embarks on five months with no qualifying game, two tough friendlies against Sweden and Brazil and a lot of watching Premier League games in the stands, there are no cast-iron certainties.

"I still think you'll find that come November we'll be very much in the mix," Hodgson said. "If sometimes you've got to fight your way for something, rather than just sail through, that can help. If you look at the Euros, Russia and Holland sailed through but neither of them got out of their groups, though they'd qualified unbeaten.

"Italy went there with loads and loads and loads of problems, we were led to believe, not the least politically – and they ended up in the final. I'm anxious to make us play as well as we can play. But I'm equally anxious to make certain we've got those fighting qualities that England has always been famous for and we don't lose them."

He is certainly correct that Italy went to Euro 2012 with problems over the match-fixing scandal that forced left-back Domenico Criscito to withdraw from the squad in the build-up. But in qualification Italy were unbeaten, winning eight games and drawing two. In fact, of the four semi-finalists at Euro 2012, only Portugal had lost a game in qualification – they lost twice and came second in their group.

While the great story of Denmark in 1992 – the team that won the European Championship having originally failed to qualify – lives on, a good qualification campaign is generally an indicator, although not a guarantee, of success at the tournament itself.

At the 2010 World Cup, finalists Spain and the Netherlands both had 100 per cent records in qualifying. On the way to Euro 2008, Spain also won their qualifying group, although they lost twice, including to Northern Ireland. The other finalists that year, Germany, lost just once in qualifying. In qualifying for the 2006 World Cup, winners Italy lost once in qualifying and runners-up, France, were unbeaten.

It will be some comfort to Hodgson that England are still unbeaten in qualification and the last time they failed to reach a tournament – Euro 2008 –they had already lost by this stage. But as with the development of the team itself, it is uncertain. What no one wants to consider at the FA is the prospect of not qualifying for Brazil, a World Cup finals that has even greater significance because of the country hosting it.

"The players know that," Hodgson said. "It would be teaching my grandmother to suck eggs if I was to stand up in front of them and tell them that. There's a lot of football still to be played and the bottom line is that this is not an easy group. Poland and Ukraine were at the Euros, we know about Montenegro from the previous campaign. We've always been aware of that.

"It would've been lovely to have got off to a flier and be sitting here with 12 points. But you don't get what you want by asking for it. You get what you want by playing for it. Ukraine played very well at Wembley and deserved their point. Poland played well and deserved their point. We've got to be disappointed because we couldn't produce a good enough performance in those games to get six points."

It is a curious feature of the FA that it would vote to curtail the reign of the same chairman who appointed Hodgson on the very same day that the England manager has a crucial World Cup qualifier. Even given the previous night's postponement it seemed a strange way to go about business given the pressure already on Hodgson and his players following the rain delay.

David Bernstein's successor as chairman will inherit all the old problems the FA has keeping itself relevant in a game dominated by the Premier League's powerful clubs.

There is the challenge of managing the FA Cup's future, the governance of the institution itself, ensuring St George's Park returns a profit, among many others, but the one the organisation is judged on above all is the performance of the England team.

If failing to qualify for Euro 2008 was painful, then being absent from a World Cup finals in Brazil the equivalent of missing Christmas, New Year and all the family's birthdays.

It is still a distant prospect, although this week England have had their warning.

Plain sailing is best: Why Roy's wrong

Roy Hodgson's claim that making hard work of a qualifying campaign can benefit a side at a tournament do not ring true. Both finalists at the last World Cup, Spain and the Netherlands, had a 100 per cent success rate in their qualifiers, while 2006 finalists France were unbeaten in qualification and winners Italy lost just once:

World Cup 2010

Five of the eight quarter-finalists won their qualification group.

World Cup 2006

Six of seven quarter-finalists won their qualification group [Germany qualified as hosts].

Voices
On the last day of campaigning before the polling booths open, the SNP leader has written to voters in a final attempt to convince them to vote for independence
voicesIs a huge gamble on oil keeping the First Minister up at night?
Life and Style
tech

Apple has been hit by complaints about the 1.1GB download

Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't
tv

Liam Neeson's Downton dreams

Sport
A 'Sir Alex Feguson' tattoo
football

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear
tv

Thriller is set in the secret world of British espionage

Life and Style
life

Life and Style
fashion

Bomber jacket worn by Mary Berry sells out within an hour

Life and Style
Alexander McQueen A/W 2014
fashionPolitics aside, tartan is on-trend again this season
Arts and Entertainment
Rapper Jay Z performs on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury in 2008
musicSinger sued over use of the single-syllable sample in 'Run This Town'
Sport
Joel jumps over the board...and into a giant hole
footballFrom joy to despair in a matter of seconds
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC
tv

Much-loved cartoon character returns - without Sir David Jason

Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me
tv

Actress to appear in second series of the hugely popular crime drama

Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife
film

Matt Smith is set to join cast of the Jane Austen classic - with a twist

Life and Style
i100

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

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week