I've already touched on this issue in previous posts (see "Russia-2, England-1...Is Anyone Really Surprised?" and "Euro 2008--England's Prospects"), but as the most crucial international break this year is now upon us, I thought I'd go over it for the last time and give all the permutations that need to happen.
I, personally, do not think the Three Lions will go to Austria-Switzerland next June for Europe's highest international competition as anything but spectators or tourists. Injuries, suspensions, poor results, and most importantly, poor man management have really put a significant dent into this team throughout all of qualifying. Now England have put themselves behind the 8-ball and in a position where their destiny isn't even in their own hands. It's blasphemic for most England fans to hear, but Scotland have a better chance to qualify as they have the ability to write their own ticket; they need to beat Italy (at home) and they're in, simple as that.
Here is the "lowdown" on England's hopes to qualify, taken straight from the BBC:
"England's qualification is out of their hands. Their best hope of qualification is to finish ahead of Russia. But if the Russians win in Israel on Saturday, they will be one point ahead of England with one match to play - and that match is away to rock-bottom Andorra. England will not expect any favours from Andorra, who are on a run of 28 consecutive Euro qualifying defeats.
If Russia lose in Israel, then England need only to draw (or win) against Croatia in their final match at Wembley to guarantee qualification. If Russia draw in Israel, then England will need to beat Croatia in their final match to go through, given that a Russia win against Andorra is all but certain.
There is one other glimmer of hope for England. If Croatia lose in Macedonia, then an England win over the Croats by a three-goal margin will put them above their rivals. A 2-0 win would also be enough, but a two-goal margin in which England have conceded a goal (eg 3-1) will not be enough - as Croatia's away goal will mean they lead the head-to-head standings between the teams. Of course, should Russia have dropped points against Israel then any win over Croatia will suffice."
Now, in basic terms:
1. England are eliminated if they lose to Croatia at home on November 21.
2. England probably will not qualify if they tie with Croatia because Russia will most likely get a point in Israel on the 17th (who will be without Yossi Benayoun) and will certainly take full points in Andorra on the 21st.
3. If Russia lose in Israel, England just needs to get a result (either a win or tie) against Croatia to qualify.
I guarantee you that Croatia won't lose in Macedonia (barring a major miracle), and it's just about as certain that England won't beat Croatia by a three-goal margin or 2-0, so that third paragraph probably won't come into play.
In short, England need help to qualify and I don't see them getting it. Russia should get a result in Israel (as I said, they're without Benayoun) and have the advantage of playing against a team that is already eliminated and has nothing to play for other than pride. I like Russia to park the bus and at the least, get a tie in Israel but a win would wrap it up for them, seeing as they'll beat Andorra on the 21st (Andorra have lost 28 Euro qualifiers in a row).
Steve McLaren, you better be scouring the classifieds as you'll be without a job come December.