You could be forgiven for thinking that Croatia were on a par with the 1970 Brazil team when skimming through Monday’s newspapers. The tabloids were quick to get themselves in a tizzy, making utterances such as “Oh No! It’s Cro” (The Sun) and “Here We Cro Again” (Daily Mirror).
Even the regularly-excellent Kevin McCarra at The Guardian was caught up in the hype, perhaps due to his proximity to the gutter-press hacks in South Africa:
“The Football Association might conceivably have been chirpier had the actual draw imitated the result of the dress rehearsal, with Holland there rather than Bilic’s side.”
Let’s make no bones about it, England have been extremely fortunate with their World Cup 2010 qualifying draw and that’s reflected in the bookies making them 1/3 to qualify for the tournament finals in three years’ time. While Croatia are undoubtedly one of the best teams in Europe, there’s nothing quite like a humiliation in your own backyard to act as motivation when there’s a chance to right some wrongs.
However, it’s also vital that the new England manager and team treat every opponent in the group with the same amount of respect. While it’s clear that the likes of Kazakhstan and Andorra will simply try to kill the game at every opportunity, England cannot afford to take Ukraine and Belarus lightly in their bid to finish top of the group.
With only one team automatically qualifying for the finals from each group, there won’t be any second or third chances for England should they fail to demonstrate their potential once again. With five of the nine second-placed teams certain to miss out, it’s vital to get the campaign off to a flying start. This will not only ensure a greater chance of qualification, it will also restore the pride and confidence of the nation.