In a strange quirk of the coronavirus-affected fixture list, England get their 2022 World Cup qualifying campaign underway in March, three months before the rearranged European Championship kicks off.
In truth, the Three Lions should reach the tournament proper at a canter, having been drawn in the same qualifying group as two of European football’s minnows in Andorra and San Marino back in December, as well as Poland, Hungary and Albania.
Gareth Southgate’s men take the first step on the long road to inevitable qualification against San Marino at Wembley on Thursday in Group I, before travelling to Albania and hosting Poland.
Here’s everything you need to know about England’s World Cup qualifying campaign…
There are ten groups in the European section of qualification and 13 World Cup places available to them, with the winners of each automatically qualifying for the main event in the Middle East between November and December next year.
The ten group runners-up will be joined by the two best Nations League group winners that finished outside the top two of their respective qualifying groups, entering into three play-off paths where a trio of victorious countries will join the ten automatic qualifiers. Simple.
Hopefully it won’t come to that for Southgate and his charges…
As previously mentioned, England should stroll this group – although there are a few key matches the Three Lions will need to come through unscathed if they want to be sure of success.
Their biggest threat is complacency, as Poland could feasibly win all of their other qualifiers to push England all the way.
Wednesday 31 March will bring an early test at Wembley with Poland the visitors, although that is a test you would expect them to come through. The return fixture on 8 September will be the toughest match of the whole qualifying campaign, while England supporters should probably pencil in the trip to Hungary on 2 September, too.
Southgate’s men complete their qualifying campaign with what should be a dead rubber in San Marino on 15 November. May as well stick Jordan Pickford up top for that one.
The first ever winter World Cup kicks off on 21 November 2022 at the 60,000 capacity Al Bayt stadium in Al Khor, with the final scheduled for 18 December 2022.
England vs San Marino – 25 March 2021, 7:45pm
Albania vs England – 28 March 2021, 5pm
England vs Poland – 31 March 2021, 7.45pm
Hungary vs England – 2 September 2021, 7:45pm
England vs Andorra – 5 September 2021, 5pm
Poland vs England – 8 September 2021, 7:45pm
Andorra vs England – 8 October 2021, 7:45pm
England vs Hungary – 12 October 2021, 7:45pm
England vs Albania – 12 November 2021, 7:45pm
San Marino vs England – 15 November 2021, 7:45pm
We’ll start with the obvious: Robert Lewandowski. If things go Poland’s way, the Bayern Munich talisman could singlehandedly derail England’s automatic qualification hopes.
The veteran striker is his nation’s all-time record goalscorer, notching 63 goals in 116 caps. He has a ridiculous 42 goals so far this season at the time of writing, and looks odds on for a well-deserved Ballon d’Or win.
If fit, Lewandowski‘s fellow striker Arkadiusz Milik can be deadly on his day, while midfielder Piotr Zielinski is having an excellent season for Napoli, registering eight goals and as many assists in all competitions.
Elsewhere, rising Hungarian star and new RB Leipzig signing Dominik Szoboszlai will be hoping to make an impact against top opponents when his country meet England later in the year, and he’ll be coming into those fixtures off the back of a likely Euro 2020 group stage exit with Portugal, Germany AND France also in their pool.
ITV hold the exclusive broadcasting rights to show England’s World Cup qualifiers in the UK, while you will also be able to watch games online via their free ITV Hub streaming service.
In the USA, England’s matches can be watched live or streamed online via American Spanish language sports network TUDN.