Arguably England’s toughest test of World Cup 2022 qualifying takes place in Warsaw on Wednesday evening, as the Three Lions prepare for battle with Poland in Group I.
Gareth Southgate’s second-string XI cruised to a 4-0 win over Andorra last time out, while Poland put seven past San Marino in a 7-1 thrashing on Sunday night.
The rarest of San Marino goals represents quite the blemish on Poland’s notebook from their weekend encounter with the microstate, but Paulo Sousa’s side ultimately struck seven goals at the correct end of the pitch to storm to a comfortable victory.
Serie C forward Nicola Nanni capitalised on a defensive error to score San Marino’s first World Cup qualifying goal in eight years, but Poland had already gone 4-0 up by that point thanks to goals from Robert Lewandowski (two), Karol Linetty and Karol Swiderski before Adam Buksa came off the bench to net a second-half hat-trick.
Now boasting 11 goals from their last two games thanks to their previous 4-1 thrashing of Albania earlier this month, Poland have cemented their spot in second place, but surprise package Albania sit just one point behind Sousa’s men and are ready to pounce on any more dropped points.
With Albania now the fortunate ones to take on whipping boys San Marino this week, Poland could very well find themselves outside of the top two with a less-than-favourable result against England, and they can only boast three wins from their last 12 games in all competitions.
However, this week’s hosts have strung together a seven-game winning streak at home in World Cup qualification – scoring at least two goals in each of those encounters – while their last defeat on home soil at this stage came all the way back in 2013 to Ukraine.
With no fewer than 11 changes in tow, England sought to replicate the first XI’s performance from their 4-0 thrashing of Hungary – a game which was marred by the despicable actions of some home supporters – when taking to the Wembley turf for the first time since the Euro 2020 final.
Birthday boy Bukayo Saka stole the show with a goal and assist against Andorra as he banished the demons of his penalty heartache, while Jesse Lingard’s brace and Harry Kane’s penalty all contributed to a resounding success for England in front of their own fans.
With 15 points taken from a possible 15 in World Cup qualifying, England have opened up a five-point gap at the top of the rankings and seem destined to cruise through to Qatar 2022, while their tally of one goal conceded can only be bettered by Denmark’s perfect defensive record.
The Three Lions may not be able to boast the highest goal tally in the group – that accolade belongs to upcoming opponents Poland – but they are one of only two sides to boast a 100% record from five qualifying matches and cannot be usurped no matter what transpires this week.
While Poland’s World Cup qualifying home record is there to be admired, England have amassed a 12-game unbeaten run away from home at this stage, and ironically, their last defeat on the road in qualifying was also to Ukraine in 2009.
Furthermore, England’s four away matches in 2021 have seen them march to four successive victories without shipping a single goal, and goals from Kane and Harry Maguire helped the Three Lions sink Poland 2-1 back in March – their eighth win in 10 matches against this week’s hosts.
Poland World Cup Qualifying – Europe form:
Poland form (all competitions):
England World Cup Qualifying – Europe form:
England form (all competitions):
We say: Poland 1-3 England
Poland managed to find a way past England’s often impenetrable rearguard in the absence of Lewandowski last time out, and the Bayern Munich man ought to feel confident about his chances of making the net ripple alongside weekend hat-trick hero Buksa.
However, all of England’s big-hitters are well-rested, and the Three Lions can all but guarantee a first-placed finish in the group with a victory here, and we are backing Southgate’s men to do just that, albeit without a clean sheet.