England will start and finish 2021 with games against the world’s worst-ranked side San Marino after their 2022 World Cup qualifying fixtures were announced.
Last week, Gareth Southgate’s team were drawn in Group I for the Qatar 2022 qualifiers. They are joined in the group by Poland, Hungary, Albania, Andorra and San Marino.
Although Andorra and San Marino represent two of Europe’s weakest sides, Southgate admitted to EnglandFootball.org following the draw that “there’s an expectation you roll those teams over, but my experience tells me those games are tough.” While in Southgate’s words they pose a “different sort” of challenge to facing one of Europe’s better outfits, they certainly do represent appropriate practice for more important matches with defensively minded sides. England’s ‘Euro 2020’ fixtures with Scotland and the Czech Republic look set to play out in such a way.Embed from Getty Images
In Poland and Hungary though, England will be able to test themselves against two improving European teams who, like England, enjoy having the ball rather than camping behind it. Southgate and the more astute members of his squad will be keen not to follow in the footsteps of England sides who fell to Hungary in the 1950s and to Poland in the ‘70s. These matches are there to learn from, but “first and foremost, World Cup qualifiers you have to win,” Southgate said.
The Three Lions won’t play again now until late March, when they’ll have a triple-header of World Cup qualifiers. First, they’ll host San Marino at 19:45 (BST) on Thursday 25 March. It’s important to note that none of England’s home qualifiers have confirmed venues yet, although it’s expected at least three of the five will take place at Wembley.
Three days later, England will be in Tirana to face Albania in their first match overseas. That one will kick off at 17:00. It will be England’s first encounter with the world’s 66th best-ranked side since another World Cup qualifier back in September 2001. The international break will end back on home soil but against more formidable opposition in the form of Poland. The match will take place on Wednesday 31 March and will be underway at 19:45. It’ll be a key test for Southgate, both in determining the early complexion of the group and in providing one last sizeable challenge ahead of the European Championships which follow in the summer.Embed from Getty Images
It is still undecided whether England will schedule any friendlies ahead of the Euros. At the finals, though, England begin against familiar foes Croatia — some might say a bogey team of the last 15 years or so. Sunday 13 June is the date, 14:00 is the time, and Wembley Stadium is the venue for this, England’s tournament opener. Indeed, Wembley will be hosting tournament matches for the first time since Euro 96, well before it was rebuilt.
Arguably the most exciting prospect of the year is the next fixture: a repeat of the Euro 96 meeting with Scotland that saw Paul Gascoigne park Colin Hendry and others on the Wembley turf with his audacious solo goal immediately after David Seaman’s famous penalty save. The difference is that this one will be an evening kick off at 20:00. The group-stage will conclude with a third Wembley match-up, this time with the Czechs. Also scheduled for 20:00, this will be an intriguing task for England, against a side who they thrashed quite handsomely at Wembley in the Euro qualifiers that got both sides here, but against whom a first qualifier defeat in a decade followed in the reverse leg.
England’s passage into the second round will hinge on these three results, but trips to Dublin and Rome loom if England do well, and a return to Wembley for the semi-final and final are on the cards if they do really well.
However far they get in the summer, their Autumn fixtures are already confirmed. The final triple-header will take place in September, with a tough trip to Budapest to face Hungary scheduled for Thursday 2 at 19:45. Sunday 5 sees a meeting with a rather more straightforward opponent — a first match against Andorra since a 6-0 victory in 2009. September ends with a visit to Poland for a tough test at 19:45 on Wednesday 8 that will take place either in Warsaw or in Chorzów.
The October break will be slightly more kind to England, starting with Andorra away on Saturday 9 October at 19:45, followed by the home tie with Hungary at the same time three days later.Embed from Getty Images
Southgate’s side should have an even more routine set of fixtures in the final international window of the year in November — at least on paper — playing host to Albania at 19:45 on Friday 12 November. Their final match of a rather more cram-packed year than 2020 sees them end just as they started: against minnows San Marino, albeit this time away from home. Kick off will again be at 19:45, on Monday 15 November. England drew San Marino in their group for both 2014 World Cup and Euro 2016 qualifying. The away fixtures saw the Three Lions rack up two of their biggest wins in recent years, 8-0 and 6-0 in 2013 and 2015 respectively.
Ignoring the possibility of friendlies before the Euros and of making the latter stages at the tournament, 2021 will see 13 fixtures, all of them against European sides, eight of them at home, against eight different opponents with an average FIFA World Ranking of 73rd.
See all fixtures below:
|2022 FIFA World Cup qualifiers||San Marino||TBC, England||25 March 2021|
|2022 FIFA World Cup qualifiers||Albania||Arena Kombëtare, Tirana, Albania||28 March 2021|
|2022 FIFA World Cup qualifiers||Poland||TBC, England||31 March 2021|
|UEFA Euro 2020 Group D||Croatia||Wembley Stadium, London, England||13 June 2021|
|UEFA Euro 2020 Group D||Scotland||Wembley Stadium, London, England||18 June 2021|
|UEFA Euro 2020 Group D||Czech Republic||Wembley Stadium, London, England||22 June 2021|
|2022 FIFA World Cup qualifiers||Hungary||Puskás Aréna, Budapest, Hungary||2 September 2021|
|2022 FIFA World Cup qualifiers||Andorra||TBC, England||5 September 2021|
|2022 FIFA World Cup qualifiers||Poland||TBC, Poland||8 September 2021|
|2022 FIFA World Cup qualifiers||Andorra||Estadi Nacional, Andorra la Vella, Andorra||9 October 2021|
|2022 FIFA World Cup qualifiers||Hungary||TBC, England||12 October 2021|
|2022 FIFA World Cup qualifiers||Albania||TBC, England||12 November 2021|
|2022 FIFA World Cup qualifiers||San Marino||Stadio Olimpico di Serravalle, Serravalle, San Marino||15 November 2021|