London – England conclude their World Cup qualification campaign against Poland on Tuesday, needing a victory to reserve a berth in Brazil and avoid another night of Wembley Stadium infamy.
Wembley was the setting when the Poles denied England a place at the World Cup in 1973 and it was also the backdrop for a 3-2 loss to Croatia on a rain-sodden night in 2007 that prevented England reaching Euro 2008.
Alf Ramsey, architect of England's 1966 World Cup triumph, and Steve McClaren paid for those failures with their jobs, but current manager Roy Hodgson approaches the game buoyed by a 4-1 success against Montenegro.
A point clear at the top of European qualifying Group H, England need only match second-place Ukraine's result away to San Marino, but with the Ukrainians almost certain to win in Serravalle, Hodgson's side will not be making calculations.
Poland's 1-0 loss in Ukraine on Friday means that Waldemar Fornalik's side can no longer qualify, but with 18,000 Polish supporters expected at Wembley, Hodgson does not anticipate a straightforward evening.
“I can't imagine they will take their foot off the pedal,” he said.
“They will want to come here and get another good result just like Poland did in 1973. We are going to be preparing for the very best Poland can be.
“If we are lucky and they decide not to turn up and allow us to stroll through them, so be it. But I am not expecting it.”
It may be Fornalik's last game in charge of Poland but visiting captain Jakub Blaszczykowski says that he and his team-mates are determined to end the campaign on a positive note.
“There are sure to be many Polish fans there. We want to thank them with a good game and the right result,” said the Borussia Dortmund winger.
“It doesn't matter that we only have honour to play for. Matches at Wembley are always very important to us.”
Both teams will be without important players in the full-back positions.
Poland right-back Lukasz Piszczek is out and England have left-back Ashley Cole injured and right-back Kyle Walker suspended.
Leighton Baines, who impressed against Montenegro, will once again deputise for Cole, while Hodgson must choose between Manchester United duo Phil Jones and Chris Smalling as Walker's replacement.
Tottenham Hotspur winger Andros Townsend, star of the victory over Montenegro on his international debut, is expected to hold onto his place on the right-hand side of the England attack.
Speaking about his performance on Friday to his club's website, Townsend said: “It hasn't sunk in at the moment and I haven't allowed it to because we've got another big game on Tuesday.
“That's the best thing, to keep my feet on the ground and try not to get carried away.”
Should England slip up, they have the safety net of a place in the European qualifying play-offs, but a second-place finish in the group would represent a huge disappointment when Brazil is within sight.
It would also oblige the Football Association to scrap plans for a couple of friendly matches in November, with games against Uruguay and old rivals Germany reportedly pencilled in for the dates of the play-off games – although the Uruguay match is almost certainly going to need to be re-scheduled as they look set to face a play-off.
Hodgson will want to see his side preserve their unbeaten record in the group as well, with fellow pool leaders Belgium, Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Spain the only other European teams still to taste defeat.
Fornalik has sounded a warning by saying that “nothing else will do” but victory for his side, but Baines says that England's players will not want for motivation.
“Qualifying for a World Cup is as big a carrot as you could probably dangle in front of any player,” said the Everton left-back.
“The magnitude of the game is something we are all aware of. On Friday (against Montenegro) we had to make sure it was in our own hands and we have to go and finish the job now.” – Sapa-AFP