With little pomp or circumstance, the draw for the qualifying round of the 2022 FIFA World Cup took place on Monday night. It was a relatively low-key affair when compared to previous draws, perhaps with FIFA mindful that the decision to award the tournament to Qatar in the first place and the major upheaval it has caused to move the tournament to the winter has already brought enough attention to them.
England impressive results, rather than necessarily their form, meant they would likely get a relatively straight forward qualifying group, with perhaps one or two obstacles along the way. However, their impressive record in qualifying competitions in the last five years suggests that it if Gareth Southgate does his job as he has done in the last few years, England will be one of the first qualifiers for the tournament due to start in December 2022.
In the last three qualifying competitions (EURO21, World Cup 2018 and EURO16), the Three Lions have played 28 games, winning 25, drawing 2 and losing just once, to the Czech Republic in Prague in October 2019. In fact, that defeat came ten years after the previous qualifying tournament defeat (October 2009 against Ukraine in Dnipropetrovsk) – an unenviable record in international football.
Whilst the official line from the England camp will always be that no game in international football is easy, I would imagine that our closest rivals such as Belgium, France, Spain and Germany, will be looking at our group enviously with games to be played against world footballing minnows Andorra (FIFA ranked 151st) and San Marino (FIFA ranked 210th, and last in world football).
For English fans they may struggle to get to see the Three Lions, assuming COVID-19 restrictions are eased, in Andorra-la-Vella and Serravalle, the homes of the lowest-ranked UEFA countries. The days of UEFA agreeing to switch venues for the smaller countries has long passed, with Gibraltar being the final nation to be allowed to host games within its borders. Obviously there may be some necessity to move games based on COVID-19 but where possible games will be hosted within country.
So what have England got to look forward to in the next two years of qualifying games? Here’s a quick look at where they will be heading to.
Poland – FIFA rank 19th – Last 10 games between the two countries – England have won seven and there have been two draws.
England fans who headed to Warsaw back in October 2012 will still be drying out from the night of torrential rain that saw the game in the National Stadium postponed around an hour after the scheduled kick-off time with the fans looking skywards at the state of the art retractable roof that hadn’t been retracted.
The game was rescheduled for the following day although many fans had already headed home (me included), unable to rearrange their travel. That game ended 1-1. Whilst Poland has some impressive stadiums, rebuilt for the 2012 European Championships, the national team call the stadium in Warsaw home.
Hungary – FIFA rank 40th – Last 10 games between the two countries – England have won eight and drawn two.
It has been thirty seven years since the two countries met in a competitive game with England running out 3-0 winners in Budapest thanks to goals from Glenn Hoddle, Sammy Lee and Paul Mariner, although it was the game two years previously that many will remember the most. England travelled to Budapest to face a strong Hungarian side but came away with a win, thanks in a large part to Trevor Brooking’s 19th minute opener with the ball becoming wedged in the stanchion of the goal.
That game, as was the one in 1983, was held in the Nepstadion, which has since been completely redeveloped into a 67,000 all seater stadium now known as the Puskás Aréna. Located in the east of the city with easy access by metro or a 30 minute walk, with plenty of bars around the ground.
Albania – FIFA rank 66th – Played them four times with England winning every game.
Most England fans will have been pleased to see us draw Albania again, having played them in the qualifying tournaments for 1990 and 2002. Albania’s standing in world football has increased significantly in the last two decades and their FIFA ranking reflects their qualification for EURO2016 as well as winning their most recent Nations League Group. England’s last game in the capital Tirana back in March 2001 was played at the Qemal Stafa Stadium, in front of a sold-out 18,000 crowd with the Three Lions winning 3-1 thanks to late goals from Michael Owen, Paul Scholes and Andy Cole. The stadium was demolished in June 2016 to make way for a new 22,500 all seater national stadium called the Air Albanian Arena, which opened in November 2019 and will host the game. The eye-catching design will certainly set it apart from other new build stadiums.
For those who like to get close to the action, the MAK Hotel is right next door to the ground. The ground is located a short walk from the bars and restaurants at the foothills of the Grand Park of Tirana. This will undoubtedly be a popular away trip, COVID-19 permitting.
Andorra – FIFA rank 151st – England have played Andorra four times, winning all four, scoring sixteen without reply in the process.
England fans will have undoubtedly groaned when they heard we would face Andorra again. Whilst our record against them is impressive, we’ve not made easy work of the games against Europe’s sixth smallest nation. The last game between the sides, at Wembley in June 2009 where the 11 men of Andorra did everything possible to keep their goal intact which led to England keeper Rob Green not touching the ball for a whole half and the home side having 25 attempts at goal to Andorra’s one tame off-target effort.
The two away games against Andorra have both been played at the Estadio Olimpico de Montjuic in Barcelona. The first of which was played out in torrential rain in the open air stadium, with Steve McLaren’s England side booed off at half-time having failed to break the deadlock.
This time around it is highly likely the game will be played at the Estadi Nacional in Andorra-la-Valle, the 3,300 capacity stadium that opened in 2014. Whilst nowhere is far away from anywhere in Andorra, getting to the tiny principality is tough will virtually no public transport from Barcelona and Toulouse, the nearest airports.
This time around it is highly likely the game will be played at the Estadi Nacional in Andorra-la-Valle, the 3,300 capacity stadium that opened in 2014. Whilst nowhere is far away from anywhere in Andorra, getting to the tiny principality is tough will virtually no public transport from Barcelona and Toulouse, the nearest airports. Oh, and its bloody freezing from October to March.
San Marino – FIFA rank 210th – England have played San Marino six times during qualification tournaments, winning all six and scoring thirty six goals in the process. San Marino have scored once, although it was one etched forever in the memory of England Fans.
Back in 1993 as the death knell tolled for England Manager Graham Taylor, the Three Lions arrived at the Stadio Renato Dall’Ara in Bologna knowing they needed a big win and the hope the Dutch slipped up to qualify for the 1994 World Cup Finals. Ten seconds into a game that England kicked off and they were 1-0 behind, with San Marino’s Davide Gaultieri taking advantage of Stuart Pearce’s weak back pass. England went on to score seven but nobody really remembers any of the goals apart from Gaultieri’s.
San Marino’s fortunes haven’t really improved since then and their international record shows they have only ever won a single match of the 174 they’ve played, conceded 730 goals and scored only 24, conceding an average of 4.20 goals per game. But they have managed two goal less draws in 2020.
They have only played one game outside of San Marino since that game against England, moving the Nations League match with Liechtenstein in September down the road (and into Italy) to Rimini due to COVID-19 restrictions within the principality.
The stadium in Serravalle has been improved and modernised although it is still an athletics stadium that can hold just over 6,600. Most fans will avoid staying in San Marino itself and head to either Rimini or Bologna, both within an hour away. The former is likely to be the best airport to use as the arrival point for fans.
They have only played one game outside of San Marino since that game against England, moving the Nations League match with Liechtenstein in September down the road (and into Italy) to Rimini due to COVID-19 restrictions within the principality. The stadium in Serravalle has been improved and modernised although it is still an athletics stadium that can hold just over 6,600. Most fans will avoid staying in San Marino itself and head to either Rimini or Bologna, both within an hour away. The former is likely to be the best airport to use as the arrival point for fans.
As the fixtures are confirmed we will be producing travel guides once again for England Fans.