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Eastern Euro-trips shouldn’t worry England

31 July 2011

Trips to Eastern Europe have left England largely untroubled

Despite the overwhelming pessimism surrounding the England team, the general feeling is that Fabio Capello’s successor has been handed a relatively straightforward qualifying group for the 2014 World Cup.

If there is one concern, it is that England will travel four times to Eastern Europe, described as “tricky away games” by Rio Ferdinand on Twitter.

The long journey, fervent support and intimidating atmospheres supposedly make life difficult for travelling teams; in general English clubs have always preferred to avoid such trips in European competition.

Yet the national team’s results behind the old Iron Curtain and beyond (including former Yugoslavian states) have been remarkably good since Sven Goran Eriksson took over as England manager in 2001. In 16 games, English teams have lost thrice and drawn twice but won 11 times.

The manner and reasons behind the three defeats have also been relatively unique. In October 2006, Steve McClaren’s 3-5-2 backfired against Croatia, and a year later his team threw away a goal lead with a quarter of the game left in Russia. Finally, a dead rubber defeat in Ukraine in 2009 bothered few.

There’s no evidence to suggest that distance travelled for away games has had any impact on England’s qualifying (or indeed friendly) results over the past 10 years. All trips to Eastern Europe were over 800 miles*, the furthest being their near-3500 mile journey to Almaty, Kazakhstan.

In fact, it’s often forgotten how well England qualified under Eriksson, and then Capello for the 2010 World Cup. Although the competition is often mediocre at best, England have broken down well-organised sides that set out to frustrate on a relatively regular basis.

The reality is that drawing Eastern European sides is an inevitability of the process; England had less than a 1% chance of being allocated a six-team group without one of these countries. Twenty-eight of the fifty-three teams in the draw were Eastern European, with only Greece and Croatia amongst the top seeds.

So despite four relatively lengthy journeys to seemingly daunting places, there really shouldn’t be any off-field factors to concern England in their bid to qualify for the next World Cup.

Is Eastern Europe still a difficult place to visit? Were there any countries in the East that England were fortunate to avoid? Provide your thoughts below.

*Distances are “as the crow flies”, calculated using Google Maps.

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