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England enter the Dragons' lair

Published: Saturday 3 September 2005, 11.23CET
The grim memories of the 1974 FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign will keep England on their toes as they take on Wales in Cardiff.
by Trevor Haylett
from Cardiff

Published: Saturday 3 September 2005, 11.23CET

England enter the Dragons' lair

The grim memories of the 1974 FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign will keep England on their toes as they take on Wales in Cardiff.

There are too many similarities to the 1974 FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign for England to go into the next round of matches, away to Wales on Saturday and away to Northern Ireland on Wednesday, confident that their ticket to the finals will soon be assured.

Worrying portent
Some 32 years ago, England were also approaching the climax of a qualifying series with hopes high of reaching the finals in Germany - West Germany was the stage in those pre-unification days. Then as now Poland and Wales were rivals in their group.

Disastrous draw
Poland's visit to Wembley for the group's last fixture in October 1973 proved defining - a draw sent the Poles through to the showpiece, where they finished third, and prompted the dismissal of Sir Alf Ramsey, who had led England to their only World Cup victory in 1966. It was a catastrophic result that still forms the subject of English bar-room debate today.

Repeat performance
On the road to Germany 2006, England are handily placed with only two points dropped but Poland have thrown down a formidable challenge with six wins in their seven games. They lead Group 6 by two points from England though they have played a match more. On 12 October the two frontrunners meet in the final group game at Old Trafford, Manchester, and pessimistic England supporters fear a repeat of events 32 years ago.

Busy spell
Sven-Göran Eriksson's team have a hectic period ahead with the trip to Cardiff launching a spell of four fixtures in six weeks. Although Wales are out of the running and are using their remaining matches as preparation for the start of UEFA EURO 2008™ qualification in 12 months' time, manager John Toshack has declared their intention to make life difficult for their British rivals, just as they did three decades previously.

Welsh pride
Toshack scored for Wales in a 1-1 draw at Wembley in 1973 which, as much as Poland's matching result, was responsible for England not qualifying. Many Welshmen would rejoice if they were able to stop England finishing in first place, although there is now an alternative qualifying route through the play-offs should Eriksson's side end up second.

Potential winners
Before last month's disastrous 4-1 friendly defeat in Denmark, England's chances of success in Germany were already being talked up, but Toshack says they should not get ahead of themselves. "England are a candidate to win the World Cup but they haven't qualified yet and Poland, who have won all four away games so far, will be hoping to take first place," he said.

Boxing clever
"We have to believe we can beat them [England]," he added. "I've been in charge of big clubs when we've faced smaller clubs and we have struggled. It can happen. Although we can't qualify we can have a say in who does. That is the motivation for us. We've got to box clever and be wary of the sucker punch."

Video nasty
This week Eriksson put the England squad through a video replay of their calamity in Copenhagen. "It will not happen again," said Eriksson. "It was a collective collapse." Wales defender Danny Gabbidon, though, will be hoping to prompt a similar slump in Cardiff.

Hostile reception
"Hopefully England will receive a hostile reception from our fans, which is something that may help us a lot," the West Ham United FC player told "If the crowd get behind us and on England's backs a little bit, we may gain from that."

Last updated: 15/04/12 6.01CET

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