England were first seeds and were seeking to participate in their third successive World Cup, having missed out both in ’74 and in ’78. Three straight group stage defeats in the Euros had probably hampered optimism somewhat, but at the start of any qualifying campaign what’s been is usually forgotten. The English FA kept faith in Bobby Robson despite what happened in West Germany during the summer, and he did have a wealth of talent available to him. Surely, they would provide sufficient ammunition to see the proud footballing nation through to Italia ’90.
Group 2 was one of the three UEFA qualification groups made up of only four teams. Second seed were Poland, who had finished fourth in their Euro ’88 qualifying group, but only one point behind second-placed Greece in a close race where three sides had been distanced by eventual European champions Holland. Poland were looking for continuity by letting Wojciech Łazarek continue to be in charge, and there were some promising players coming through.
Third seeded Sweden had come close to qualifying for their first major tournament since Argentina ’78 (they were widely regarded as the best team to not have qualified for a major international competition in the 80s), but they were eventually undone by a home defeat to Portugal and losing 2-1 in a decisive match away to Italy for Euro ’88. So whilst they had finished on a low note, they could still take heart from some of their performances, and the Swedish FA had no one else in mind but current coach Olle Nordin to lead the charges for Italia ’90. Swedish club sides had often done well in Europe in the late 70s and 80s, and they had been exporting a great deal of players to some of Europe’s finest leagues. They were possibly expected to present England’s greatest challenge.
Finally came fourth seed Albania, whose World Cup pedigree was not one to install a lot of spirit ahead of this coming campaign. Their federation had appointed Shyqyri Rreli, leading club KS 17 Nëntori’s manager, as the national team’s new head of staff, and although few teams would come to Tirana expecting a cruise towards two points, their away record left a lot to be desired. Their ever only away point had come in a 2-2 draw in Poland for Mexico ’86. A point or two in home ties with Sweden and/or Poland was really all they could be hoping for.