Roy Hodgson’s side have failed to take a victory against any side other than Moldova and San Marino, meaning their close rivals have a good chance of deposing the only country in the group to have won the World Cup in the past.
Two nervy nights at Wembley await Hodgson and his men; two nights which will decide whether England finish top of the group, make do with a play-off place or see their participation in the World Cup qualifiers ended entirely.
With Montenegro up first on Friday and Poland visiting London on Tuesday, we run down the possible scenarios facing England as they approach a decisive five days.
(The current Group H standings can be seen at the bottom of the page)
1. SIX POINTS FROM SIX
If England win against Montenegro and Poland they will finish top of Group H and qualify for next summer’s World Cup finals in Brazil. Nice and straightforward.
2. FOUR POINTS FROM SIX
Here’s where things get a little more complicated. For the sake of argument, we will assume that on the final day Ukraine will beat San Marino and Montenegro will defeat Moldova at home – as both of these results are almost certain. If this plays out as expected, then both countries will finish with 18 points minimum, two more than England currently have.
If England draw their opening game against Montenegro and then beat Poland, they will finish the campaign with 20 points. This would be enough to finish ahead of Montenegro, who would go on to beat Moldova and finish with 19 points, but Ukraine could win their final two games against Poland and San Marino - and if they do, they would take top spot, pushing England into second place and a play-off position. If Ukraine do not take maximum points then four will be enough for England to top the group.
If England win against Montenegro then draw against Poland, the scenario is exactly the same. Poland can only be relevant in the qualifying permutations if they win away at Ukraine and England – a hugely unlikely prospect.
3. THREE POINTS FROM SIX
If England lose their first game to Montenegro then even a win against Poland will not be enough to save them if, as expected, both Ukraine and Montenegro take maximum points from their final two games. England would fail to qualify for the World Cup for the first time since 1994.
If England do lose the first of their two fixtures, their only hope of securing a play-off place will be if Ukraine fail to win at home to Poland on the same night: if the visitors win in Kiev then England will finish second with a victory at home to Poland; if the Ukraine-Poland game is a draw and then England and Ukraine both win on the final day, the battle for second will go down to goal difference. England’s is currently seven better than Ukraine’s, but Ukraine have the luxury of facing San Marino on the final night.
Should England defeat Montenegro and then lose to Poland, things will look a bit better. Montenegro would be out of the equation as they would finish on 18 points to England’s 19. Ukraine would top the group unless they slip up in their first game against Poland. If this game is a draw, they would finish joint top with England with a win over San Marino. However, if Poland manage to win in Ukraine in this scenario and then defeat England, they will finish joint top of the group with Hodgson's men and it would come down to goal difference - with England holding a significant advantage in this regard.
4. TWO POINTS FROM SIX
A disastrous result of two draws would mean England almost certainly finishing behind Montenegro, who as we have found will surely beat Moldova on the final day. England could qualify for the play-offs with two draws but they would need Ukraine to lose to Poland and fail to score a huge number of goals against San Marino.
5. ONE POINT FROM SIX
The decisive game could be Ukraine's home match with Poland. If they win on Friday then England MUST also get maximum points to qualify automatically. Things will become much clearer come Friday night, but England know that one slip could be fatal, leaving them open to possible disappointment in the play-offs. A defeat on Friday to Montenegro could end their World Cup hopes entirely.
GROUP H REMAINING KEY FIXTURES:
England v Montenegro (October 11)
Ukraine v Poland (October 11)
England v Poland (October 15)
Montenegro v Moldova (October 15)
San Marino v Ukraine (October 15)