There are good and bad
omens for England as they wait to see how their rivals fare ahead of their last
Euro 2008 qualifier. The bad omen is that countries that need to win usually
do, which favours Russia who will feel they need to win tomorrow away to
already-eliminated Israel if they are to qualify instead of England from Group
The figures that follow are from the final rounds of European
qualifiers for the last five international tournaments - the 1998, 2002 and
2006 World Cups plus the 2000 and 2004 European Championships. When countries
that needed to win faced opponents that had nothing to play for, they won 78%
of their games. In earlier rounds, they had won only 57% suggesting they were
more likely to win in the final, decisive games than they had been in the
In club football, the situation is
sometimes different. In England, for example, even teams who have nothing to
play for still put up a good fight at the end of a season. In Italy, however,
they do not.
Technically, of course, Russia's trip to Israel is not
their final qualifier for Euro 2008, but for all practical purposes it can be
accepted as such; afterwards, they have only to travel to pointless Andorra.
The good omen for England is that countries who have already qualified - like
all others with nothing left to play for - tend to ease down. If Russia should
fail to beat Israel, England will qualify next Wednesday if they win at home to
Croatia, who would already be assured of a place in next summer's finals in
Austria and Switzerland.
In the five previous campaigns, countries who
had already qualified won only 62% of their games. While still trying to
qualify, they had won 77% of their games. After qualification, results
deteriorated against all levels of opponents, but they were worst against those
who still had something to play for.
When countries who had already
qualified faced opponents who could still qualify, they won only 43% of their
games. Only once did a country who had already qualified play away to opponents
who could still qualify, and they lost.