Steve McClaren is convinced England "will qualify for Austria and Switzerland" after fate handed them a lifeline ahead of their closing game against Croatia.
A win for Russia in Tel-Aviv on Saturday night would have lifted Guus Hiddink's team above England and made them firm favourites to progress, but Israel prevailed 2-1, leaving McClaren's men needing only to avoid defeat at home against Croatia on Wednesday to reach the finals. Although he will be without strikers Michael Owen and Wayne Rooney, as well as defender John Terry, through injury, and defender Rio Ferdinand through suspension, McClaren could not see his side missing their chance.
"It will be difficult but I am convinced we will get the result we need and we will qualify for Austria and Switzerland," said the manager, who had come in for severe criticism following his side's 2-1 defeat in Russia in their last qualifier on 17 October. "I have said several times in the last few weeks, the campaign was not over until it was over. I always believed it would come down to the Croatia game and thankfully it has."
The former Middlesbrough FC manager added: "I watched the match with my family at the team hotel in Watford. All the coaching staff were also in the hotel and, as you can imagine, we are all delighted qualification is back in our own hands. It is fantastic news for us all and I would like to pay tribute to Israel for the professional way they went about their job. They showed what a proud nation they are and they deserve a lot of praise for their efforts."
England had warmed up for their final qualifier with a 1-0 friendly win in Austria with many predicting a swift end to McClaren's career as national team manager in the event of a widely-expected win for Russia at the Ramat Gan Stadium. Now he hopes the qualification campaign will end on a high note at Wembley. "It is back in our own hands now and we really need the whole country to get right behind the team over the next few days," he said. "We have to get the result on the pitch on Wednesday night, while we really want the fans to generate a really big Wembley atmosphere, just as they did [in the 3-0 home win] against Russia."
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