England are braced to play Tuesday's decisive World Cup qualifier in a hostile atmosphere whipped up by more than 20,000 Poland fans, the largest away following for a competitive game at the revamped Wembley stadium, for a fixture that will determine if Roy Hodgson's side reach the finals in Brazil automatically or must endure a play-off.
The game, which the home side need to win to hold off the threat posed by Ukraine at their back, will be an 85,000 sell-out with the Football Association having effectively increased the area of the ground designated for away supporters for security reasons. The Polish FA had originally requested 8,000 tickets for the match but, with those quickly sold, the ex-pat community in England as well as some supporters back in Poland moved to buy up seats made available on general sale.
The FA, with segregation in mind, decided last week to replicate their policy from the recent friendlies against the Republic of Ireland and Scotland and offered those purchasing tickets the opportunity to sit in an away section that has been swollen to 18,000 seats. An FA spokesperson said: "With high demand for tickets from the large Polish community in England the FA took the decision, based on safety grounds, to ensure Polish fans were allocated space in a specific area of the ground, rather than attempting to buy tickets in home areas."
The allocation is much larger than the 10% Fifa require host nations to offer visiting associations, and has necessitated some home fans being moved to accommodate the larger away section, but will still not satisfy the demands of the Polish support despite last Friday's defeat in Ukraine having ensured the visitors retain no hope of qualifying for the finals next summer.
"There will be at least 20,000 Polish fans," said a spokesman for the Polish FA, with a similar number present in a crowd of 65,000 at Dortmund's Westfalen stadium for a group match against Germany at the 2006 World Cup. "Knowing how many Poles live in Great Britain, we know how many will attend this game, even though now we don't have a chance to qualify. For a lot of people it's a very special game. It is England and it's a football story. They live in England but the team from the motherland is their country. It's important for them to be at the game and support the Poland team. It is always better to go to work the next day and say to their English colleagues, 'We beat you.'"
Poland's striker, Robert Lewandowski, said: "We're very aware that we'll have huge support there from a great number of our fans who we hear are going to the game. We might not have any chance of getting through to the World Cup finals now, but we'll be playing for our prideand we feel we owe our fans to give them something to cheer about againat Wembley."
News of the hefty away support was greeted bullishly by England's players. "If it adds to the atmosphere, then great," said Leighton Baines. "I remember when we played Ghana [who had 21,000 fans in the groundfor a friendly backin March2011] and they were amazing, so it'll add to the occasion. Sure, it could lift the away side, but you'd rather play in a stadium with a good atmosphere."
The Poles arrive in London without their suspended centre-half, Lukasz Szukala, but apparentlystill motivateddespite languishing fourth in the section, with the England manager Roy Hodgson wary of their threat. He welcomed his players back to their Hertfordshirebase on Sunday, the squad training at London Colney in the late afternoon, and reiterated a message first delivered bluntly in the dressing room in the immediate aftermath of Friday's 4-1 dismissal of Montenegro at Wembley.
"I wasn't really excited on Friday," he said. "I think everyone was just satisfied. The players knew they'd done the job as they thought they should do it, and that's a great start, but they also recognised it was only half the job. So it was a mood of quiet satisfaction but I was very keen to point out one or two things to them, so it wasn't anything of a celebratory mood. I was probably quite harsh. Sometimes it's easier to be harsh when people have done well and harder to be harsh when they haven't done well.
"The one thing that anyone would want to guard against, and I'll be saying it now until I'm blue in the face, is complacency. But I don't imagine it will be there, I don't imagine there will be any complacency. Certainly after the things I said to them, I think they've got a pretty clear idea where I stand on that subject."
The success over Montenegro maintained the buoyant mood that had built up with the squad over a week of sound preparation, with the party settled now as they focus on the Poles' visit. Ashley Cole will remain at Chelsea receiving treatment on a rib injury, with the Liverpool forward Raheem Sterling having been promoted from Gareth Southgate's Under-21s as cover for the injured Tom Cleverley. Phil Jones is expected to step in for the suspended Kyle Walker at right-back in a lineup that will not deviate radically from last week's victorious selection.