2021 England Update: World Cup QualifyingOnce the summer was over, it was back to business as usual in European World Cup Qualifying. There were still 4 games to play and a return trip to Qatar to secure. There was a minor controversy in my selection for the September qualifiers however. Wayne Rooney had annouced his international retirement after the Confederations Cup but, as he had had an impressive tournament, I persuaded him to stay on for one last hurrah and the following summer's World Cup. When it came to time to name the England squad, I noticed he was struggling for match fitness following a pre-season injury so I decided to explore a couple of other options. Rooney then went ballistic telling the media how he had been 'humiliated' by being coaxed out of retirement only to be overlooked. He has now declared quite clearly that he will never play for England again while I am manager. That's a shame but I'm not going to pick a player who is injured even if they are on the verge of a return to fitness.
Our first game of the new season was against the only side to prevent us from winning so far, Norway. The game was very similar to the previous one in Oslo as we controlled the game but struggled to break down a well-organised Norwegian defence. A breakthrough finally came in the shape of debutant Bobby Holmes, a striker I had called up for the first time based on his impressive early season form for Blackpool, who fired in a shot from just inside the area in the 70th minute. There was only going to be one winner after that and Sheldon confirmed it with a late second goal for a 2-0 win. A few days later we travelled to Andorra and, as expected, came away with an emphatic win. 6-0 was the final score with the goals coming from six different players including another from the impressive Holmes (maybe Rooney won't be missed after all! ;))
In October, we travelled to Montenegro for a game that would confirm our qualification. After their seven goal humiliation at Wembley, the Montenegrians played a tight game and it took a couple of set pieces for us to get the goals with Chalobah coming up from defence to score two headers, one from a corner and one from a free kick, as we won 2-0. With our place in Qatar secıred, the final game at home to Croatia was little more than a practice match for us. For our opponents, however, it was a vital game as they sought to book a place in the play-offs. I guess the no pressure scenario for us coupled with the high pressure scenario for them had an impact as we ran out 6-0 winners! Again, Chalobah caused problems with his height scoring the first two goals and Bobby Holmes continued his impressive start to the season with his 3rd and 4th international goals in just his third game. After all that, the table looked like this:
That 6-0 defeat proved very costly for the Croatians as, in the ranking of second-placed teams, they missed out on the play-offs on goal difference.
In November, we played a single friendly at home to Ireland (we were also scheduled to play Italy away but they slipped up in their final qualifying games and went into the play-offs). Two goals early on from Phil Jones and Alex Chamberlain suggested a rout was in the offing but the Irish closed up at the back and kept the scoreline at 2-0.