Without wanting to sound too negative, I’ve never really placed much value on friendlies and the games against Chile and Germany are probably the last time Roy Hodgson can field experimental line ups before the serious business of preparing for the World Cup starts.
Although it’s nice to see Southampton providing so many players following their successful start to the new season, I get the feeling that the best some of the Saints personnel can hope for is to make the final list of 44 names that will appear before the squad for Brazil is cut down to 23.
The real action takes place elsewhere over the next couple of days and I’d rather concentrate on the teams that could well be facing England next summer. France and Croatia are short priced favourites to qualify at the expense of Ukraine and Iceland – yes, Iceland – and although Portugal and Greece are the bookies favourites to accompany them to Brazil, it’s never that straightforward.
For example, Romania have beaten Greece in three of their last five meetings and according to the ever reliable FIFA rankings the Romanians have improved a lot over the past couple of years. Although they haven’t qualified for the finals since 1998, they’ve done better than the Greeks when they have but the Greeks had the best record of any of the group runners up and this one looks as if it could be a lot closer than expected.
One to watch: Ciprian Marica. Romanian striker who currently plays for Getafe in La Liga and scored five times during qualifying: his individual total was seven less than the Greek team total.
Iceland probably don’t stand much of a chance against Croatia but once again this is a team that has shown astonishing improvement over the past year and saw off Slovenia and Norway in the process of qualification. The Croats lost three of their last four qualifiers and to be honest, any team that loses twice to the current Scottish team doesn’t deserve to go to Brazil.
One to watch: Kolbeinn Sighthorsson. 23 year old striker who has scored 13 times in 19 appearances for the Icelanders and curently plays for Ajax. If Iceland reach Brazil, expect a multi-million pound bid from one of the big clubs. That may happen even if they don’t.
France were unlucky on two counts. The rules concerning automatic qualification for the winners were changed and they were drawn with Spain: the defeat to the current holders in Paris in the spring was all that separated the two countries at the end of qualification. Ukraine’s strength is defence, but they’re capable of annihilating poor teams and they’ve lost none of their last seven qualifiers and scored 27 goals in the same time frame: if France have an off day, we could be in for a suprise. Having written that, our near neighbours have won four of the last five meetings and have qualified for every World Cup since 1998.
One to watch: Vyacheslav Shevchuk. Veteran Ukrainian defender who played in the last four qualifiers including the goalless draw with England: spent most of the last decade with Shakhtar Donetsk as Razvan Rat’s understudy but has come into his own as an overlapping fullback since the latter moved to West Ham.
The ‘big’ game is Portugal v Sweden, which has been reduced to a battle between Ronaldo and Zlatan Ibramhimovic that may distract the man in the street away from the rather mundane reality of the situation. The Swedes are loads better than they were but have declined in the last three years; Portugal have been treading water recently and even though they’re probably justifiable favourites to qualify for Brazil, they could be a big disappointment when they get there.
One to watch: Bruno Alves. The most experienced – and tallest – central defender in the current Portuguese squad is two inches shorter than Zlatan Ibrahimovic so it’ll be interesting to see how these two get along. Alves has picked up more than his fair share of bookings over the years so if there are any fireworks they could start here. Honourable mention: Mikael Lustig. If Ronaldo decides to wander onto the left wing, it’ll be the Celtic right back’s job to stop him.
Television: England v Chile (ITV1, 8:00pm) but I’ll be watching Portugal v Sweden (Sky Sports 1, 7:45pm) as that’s actually for something.
Although the amount of memories concerning the 1973 game has been interesting – it remains one of the biggest footballing disappointments of my life – it’s vital that we don’t confuse the circumstances.
The situation England were in on the day of the game four decades ago was far worse that it is today. On the morning of 17th October 1973, England were bottom of Group 5 and had only won four of their last ten games at Wembley. Although most early to mid 1970s football teams looked like a cross between Suzi Quatro’s backing band, the cast of ‘The Likely Lads’ and your dad’s mates from work, the Poles also had frightening surnames without vowels and even though their main threat was injured, they had one or two decent players.
Along with Poland our group contained Wales. That’s it. Poland finished third in the 1974 World Cup and Wales reached the quarter finals of the 1976 European Championships. It was not an easy group.
In fact, five of the eight European qualifying groups contained just three teams – for the most part down to the fact that Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union were still coherent political units but also because some of the no hopers like Andorra and San Marino wouldn’t have been allowed anywhere near the World Cup in those days.
We’d lost twice in that ten game period. To West Germany in the quarter finals of the European Championships in April 1972 and to Northern Ireland the following month – presumably the green shirts both sides wore had some sort of negative psychological impact. In the next home game following our elimination from the World Cup, we lost again. Some bloke named Fabio Cappello got the only goal for Italy.
However, three convincing wins on the trot – including battering Austria 7-0 a couple of weeks before in a morale boosting friendly supposedly organised because the Austrians were supposed to play a bit like the Poles – must have raised expectations to unreasonable levels.
England’s first World Cup qualifying campaign for over a decade had been poor: having had to come from behind to draw with Wales at Wembley in January 1973 (exactly what would happen against Poland), the real damage had been done in Chorzow in June when England lost 2-0. Not for the first time, defensive mistakes and a red card cost England in a big game: unusually, in his normal comfort zone of the left hand side of the field just outside the eighteen yard box Bobby Moore dithered in possession and was robbed by Wlodzimierz Lubanski who scored Poland’s second goal seconds later. Alan Ball lost his temper with just over ten minutes left and was sent off: it all seems horribly familiar doesn’t it.
The situation this morning couldn’t be any different.
* Poland have never won at Wembley. Or in England either – their first game here was at Goodison Park in January 1965. We finally managed to beat Poland in the 1986 World Cup when Gary Lineker scored a hat trick.
* Including 1990, we’ve played against the Poles in the last home game of the World Cup qualifiers on three occasions. We’ve won all three games and Poland have only scored once.
* The Poles lost 1-0 to Ukraine on Friday and they cannot qualify for Brazil.
* If we do not beat Poland we will be in the playoffs and there will be some very scary teams in that position. Like Spain or France.
Let’s put it this way: if I’d known the full circumstances before the 1973 game, I’d have been more worried than I am this match. If Poland can stop England from automatic qualification tonight, the impact on English football will be far greater than what happened 40 years ago: with all the contemporary distractions, a generation of disappointed nine year olds could turn their backs on the England team for good.
England v Poland, 8pm ITV1.
So we’re finally down to the last pair of qualifiers for the 2014 World Cup and to say the situation is finely poised is an understatement. Any of the top four in Group H could go through: England could qualify automatically or not at all.
As we’ve got a day before the first game, let’s put things in perspective – thanks to England Football Online for the stats.
Starting with the qualifiers for 1990, we’ve won our group four times out of six and never finished lower than third. That was in 1994, when we failed to qualify and Graham Taylor did not like that. We’ve won eleven of the last 12 home qualifiers with the opposition failing to score in eight of those games. In five of those six qualifying campaigns, we won both of our last home qualifiers so it’s not like this situation is one we’re unfamiliar with.
Furthermore, it’s extremely unlikely our goal difference advantage is going to be wiped out over the next two games. The last time we conceded more than five goals in two consecutive home games was back in June 1995 and I couldn’t be bothered to look further back than the 1958 World Cup to see if we’d ever let in more than six.
England have only lost twice at home since March 2010 and if it hadn’t have been for a late Arjen Robben winner for the Netherlands in February last year that record would have been better. The other home defeat was against France: it’s worth making the assumption that only the very best teams can beat England in England.
That’s not to say that it’s going to be plain sailing. We’ve not won three consecutive home games since the end of 2011 (Wales, Spain and Sweden) and have kept four clean sheets in the last ten games. We’ve not stopped the opposition scoring in consecutive home games since that three game winning streak and with Joe Hart‘s form currently being erratic to say the least and Ashley Cole missing completely, that could be a worry. And most importantly of all, we’ve yet to beat Montenegro.
On the other hand, although Montenegro are unbeaten in their last six away games it’s not as if they’ve played any of the giants of world football in that sequence. The suprise win in Ukraine last October was probably the best away result in the history of Montenegrin international football but I genuinely believe that we can’t read too much into that result. Their qualification hopes are very precarious indeed: they should beat Moldova next Wednesday but they need to hope that Poland don’t lose to Ukraine on Friday to stand any chance of automatic qualification.
The Montenegrin squad is pretty experienced: eight of them have appeared 30 or more times for their country with midfielder Simon Vukcevic – who some of you may remember having a cameo role with Blackburn recently – leading the way with 42. Current leading goalscorer is Mirko Vucinic of Juventus although it looks as if both he and Manchester City’s Stevan Jovetic could be missing tomorrow – which leaves aging yet relatively inexperienced pair Andrija Delibasic and Dejan Damjanovic as Branko Brnevic’ attacking options. Fulham signed defensive midfielder Elsad Zverotic on transfer deadline day, but he’s yet to make an appearance for the Cottagers and has been an unused sub four times this season.
A couple of other England related lines: a spectacular case of sour grapes from Harry Redknapp who then went on to tell a story that demonstrated exactly why he shouldn’t have been allowed anywhere near the England job.
Gazza has joined twitter.
In a loving tribute to the 1970s, Jack Wilshere had a cigarette and then grumbled about how England players should be born in England. If we’re going to lapse into cliches, how about the one about footballers are paid far too much for kicking a ball around a field and are usually thick as sh…..
There’ll be an update tomorrow night after the game has finished.
England v Montenegro, 8pm ITV1
Update: a cagey first half that ended scoreless ended with a 4-1 England win. Two immediate points: Andros Townsend’s debut was very impressive – but Danny Wellbeck needs to stop being cute with his finishing and just leather it. Back on Tuesday.
With the biggest football tournament only a few months away, it is already time to start looking at what England can achieve this summer in Brazil. The 2014 World Cup is going to be a spectacular event, with 32 teams looking to give it their all and lift that historic trophy. Spain will be favorites, given their 2010 success, while the likes of Brazil, Argentina, Germany, Netherlands and Colombia cannot be excluded from among the favorites. While England are not fancied to do too well this summer, there are a number of reasons why they have an outside chance of having a great tournament. Of course, they need to qualify first.
In order to qualify, England need to win their remaining two games. The good thing for them is that they are top of their group, which means their destiny is in their hands. In addition, the remaining two games are at Wembley. Home advantage should be a huge bonus to England, with most of their best results coming in front of the home fans. They have beaten Brazil at Wembley in the past year, so getting past a couple of qualifying opponents should not be a difficult task. Injuries will play their part, but whoever lines up for England is good enough to get the job done.
With the likes of Montenegro to come in their qualifier games, England will be very confident of topping the group. They have come through the hardest tests, and will only have themselves to blame if they cannot get the business completed in the right manner. The worst case scenario would be having to go into the playoff scenario, if they come second in the group. That will be tricky, but again England would back themselves to get through no matter what the circumstances.
After qualification is secured, England have to ensure that they are in the best possible shape to have a run at the 2014 World Cup. This is only possible if Roy Hodgson picks the correct 23 man squad. Too often England have taken players who are eihter too functional or not ready for the major tournaments. If Hodgson can get his balance right, England can match almost any team on their day. Here is a look at the squad Hodgson should take.
Goalkeepers: Joe Hart, Ben Foster, Jack Butland
While Ben Foster is not currently playing for England, he can be pursuaded to do so. He provides an experienced back up to the great Joe Hart. While Hart is a very capable goalkeeper, he needs to be pushed when he is on England duty. Foster is the type of keeper who can claim his place if Hart is not in form.
Defenders; Johnson, Jones, Smalling, Jagielka, Cahill, Baines, Cole
England would love to have the services of Rio Ferdinand and John Terry for this tournament, but it looks as though that ship has sailed. Those two are in the past and England must move on without them. Ideally, one of Phil Jones or Chris Smalling will be in the center half position, along with Gary Cahill. Smalling and Jones are both inexperienced, but have quality and speed in abundance. A partnership of Jagielka and Cahill is too slow to prosper, especially against quality attacks. Johnson and Baines should be the first choice full backs, with Ashley Cole a very capable back up. Baines offers greater attacking threat, and is significantly younger than Cole.
Midfielders: Gerrard, Lampard, Carrick, Barry, Walcott, Cleverley, Wilshere, Lallana
Strikers: Rooney, Defoe, Carroll, Sturridge, Welbeck
Aside from the goalkeeper and a solid back four, the 4-3-3 is England’s best bet for being successful in Brazil. Against the top sides, going 4-4-2 or 4-4-1-1 is a mistake. England’s midfield three should be Carrick, Gerrard and Jack Wilshere. These three are significantly different from each other, which means they will bring different qualities. Carrick can sit deepest, making interceptions and being the bridge between midfield and defense. Gerrard will play slightly further forward, supplying passes to the flanks and up top. Wilshere is perfect for the role furthest forward, running at players and playing quick one-twos with the strikers.
The three up top should be Rooney central, Walcott on the right and Sturridge off the left. Another alternative is to have Sturridge cutting inside from the right, and Welbeck doing the same from the left. The front three should be mobile, interchanging, and lethal in attack. Rooney will be the focal point, with passes played to his feet and for him to run onto. This will occupy both center halves, and allow the two outside attackers to cut inside and wreak havoc. Wilshere will also link up with Rooney, and the four of them will be difficult for any defense to handle.
In terms of playing style, England must be slightly conservative against the better teams. Sitting behind the ball and counter attacking is their best bet. A gung ho approach will result in them getting overrun, while they are not suited to playing a patient, possession based game.
The final area which England must work on is the penalty situation. There will come a time when they have to win a shoot out in order to progress. Whether extra practice is involved, or players need to speak to a sports psychologist, Hodgson should do whatever is necessary to put previous penalty debacles in the past. If he can succeed in doing that, England will be dark horse for the 2014 tournament.
The England football team does not have a glorious record in the recent World Cups, but that does not stop the more fervently patriotic from putting bets on them every time another one rolls around. The most popular bets are usually simple outright ones on England to win the tournament, although they are pretty risky – given that England haven’t even qualified yet (and haven’t won a World Cup in 50 years). However this is not the only gambling option available when it comes to England in the 2014 World Cup, so what bet would be good to place?
The current 25/1 odds on England to win the tournament that are being offered by most bookmakers seem remarkably low given the nation’s poor record. Of course they are still well below favourites like Brazil (3/1) and Germany (5/1) and it would be a brave punter that went with this bet – even at decent odds. At the opposite end of the spectrum you can also get just 11/2 on Roy Hodgson’s men to fail to qualify, but this seems equally ill-advised in the wake of securing the crucial draw in the Ukraine. Overall then, a bet on England to win their qualifying group, at 2/5 could represent the strongest wager, but given how low the odds are on this now, playing one of the online casino football slot games from places like www.gamingclub.com/au might be the best choice right now.
For example, a slot game like Shoot – a five reel video slot inspired by the vintage football magazine of the same name. Overall this is a game with appeal for anyone with the slightest interest in football history – and its greatest players. The reels feature photos of former stars like Marco Van Basten, Pele, Kevin Keegan and Maradona – all of whom feature in one of the bonus games: the Trade’em game. This asks you to choose four of the players from the twelve offered, with either cash bonuses or the activation of either of the other two bonus games, as your prize. When you consider that Shoot also offers a jackpot of no less than $20,000, it is clear that this is a slot game that hits the back of the net every time.
Answer: they won’t be taking any part in tonight’s game in the Ukraine, although I’m prepared to give half a mark if anyone answered ‘they’re both overrated millionaires on the downside of their careers’.
At least supposed ‘want away striker’ Rooney has a football related injury – and quite a nasty one too – whilst FA Chairman Dyke has ‘a business meeting’ that means he’s unable to attend the game. Coming so soon after the former BBC chairman unveiled his vision for the future, it’s slightly surprising that he’s reverted to being a corporate shill so soon.
Before I go any further and get myself into trouble, congratulations to Frank Lampard on winning his 100th cap tonight. I wrote this post about the other centurions and here are Lampard’s details:
He made his England debut in October 1999 in a 2-1 win over Belgium in Sunderland and the team that night is a weird mixture that signals the end of one era and the beginning of another as well as being Steve Guppy’s only England cap:
Seaman (Martin), Dyer (P. Neville), Southgate, Lampard (Wise), Adams, Keown, Redknapp, Ince, Shearer (Heskey), Phillips (Owen), Guppy
The only other player in that team currently still playing is the apparently ageless Kevin Phillips. The number one ‘record’ in the UK charts was ‘Genie In A Bottle’ by Christina Aguilera (I don’t remember it either) and on the same day the London Eye was manoeuvred into position.
Apart from Danny Welbeck’s mystery yellow card on Friday night, events on the pitch went well. Despite taking the lead against Poland, Montenegro could only draw and – as I predicted – Ukraine battered San Marino 9-0.
To be perfectly honest, we’re in a very good position here. We’ve got a superior goal difference, a game in hand over Montenegro and our last two qualifiers are at home. Although we’ve not beaten Montenegro since the turn of the century, we’ve not lost to them either. Poland have never won at Wembley.
However, we’ve played in Ukraine twice and both of those games were settled by one goal so don’t expect fireworks tonight – if the game is a draw, it’s a decent result for ourselves and the Ukrainians and puts the burden of qualification back on the Montenegrins. Ukraine’s last match is at San Marino and as I’ve said all along, Group H is about how many goals you can score against them.
Finally this morning, in the ‘No Sh*t Sherlock’ category: this (via Sky Sports)
Ukraine v England (7:45pm), ITV 1 (coverage starts at 7:15pm) and Radio 5 Live.
You’ve got to hand it to Greg Dyke.
Having spent most of his career in journalism of one sort or another, he’s obviously the right man for the role of FA chairman. Like many media types these days, he supports two clubs (Manchester United and Brentford) and so he clearly knows loads about football.
So it’s a little jarring when you read the full text of the rather long winded speech he gave on Wednesday, which contains these gems:
‘…the issue, quite simply, is this. In the future it’s quite possible we won’t have enough players qualified to play for England who are playing regularly at the highest level in this country or elsewhere in the world. As a result, it could well mean England’s teams are unable to compete seriously on the world stage…
‘..so let me stress up front this is not a criticism of the Premier League. I genuinely want to work hand in hand with the League to try to address what I see as a serious and growing problem…
‘Now some history. I was involved in the establishment of the Premier League when I was Chief Executive of London Weekend Television back in the early 1990s. I was the host of the original dinner when the five clubs decided to break away and set up The FA Premier League…
‘At that famous dinner, some 20-odd years ago, the participants genuinely thought a strong Premier League attracting the best players from around the world to play alongside our English players would help create a stronger England team, that our players would learn from the best. That was how the idea was sold to The FA and at the time The FA said it was the main reasons why they sanctioned the breakaway league.’
So basically Greg Dyke is attempting to solve a problem which he was responsible for creating two decades ago: nice work if you can get it.
Dyke also set some targets, which is what Chairman are supposed to do even if they don’t achieve them. England’s targets are to reach the semi finals of Euro 2020 and win the World Cup in Qatar in 2022. What happens next year is – apparently – irrelevant, although another aspect of being a Chairman attempting to redefine your position when people start asking awkward questions, which is exactly what Dyke did on the BBC earlier today.
Basically, Dyke is another corporate suit making the right noises but who won’t actually achieve even half the things he promises and will be off as soon as he gets a better offer.
Back to the nuts and bolts and we’ve got two huge games coming up over the next week. Realistically we need to win both to stand any chance of automatic qualification for Brazil and although Moldova tomorrow night (ITV1, 8:00pm) should be straightforward, the game in Ukraine next week won’t be. However, we can only play one match at a time, so let’s start with tomorrow’s game.
In just under three years we’ve only lost twice at Wembley so I think we can assume that’s not a possibility against a team that has only won one away game in the last three years. In case you hadn’t realised, Moldova aren’t exactly in the same calibre as France and Holland.
There are a couple of slightly worrying aspects to this game though. The first is that although we scored three times against Scotland, that was only the second time England have scored more than two goals at home since losing to France in November 2011. With Wayne Rooney missing for both games, the most prolific striker in the squad is Jermain Defoe: after him, the cupboard looks a bit bare. Rickie Lambert is a nice story, but is hardly a long term option.
The second worrying aspect isn’t immediately obvious, but may be of greater concern over the next couple of months. In the six home games England have played since beating Italy last August, we’ve only stopped mighty San Marino from scoring. Of the seven defenders in the squad for the forthcoming games, six of them have played less than 20 times for England, with Kyle Walker, Chris Smalling and Steven Caulker (all of whom will no doubt be reaching the semi finals of Euro 2020 under the guidance of Greg Dyke) having a grand total of 13 caps between them. Not only that, Joe Hart has had what might be called an ‘interesting’ run of form recently – although to be honest I’d rather he was having a blip now rather than next summer.
Before I start sounding like a doom merchant, let me outline a very positive scenario that involves England leading the group by a point from our next opponents. We should beat Moldova, but I simply cannot see Ukraine wasting the opportunity to score as many goals as possible against San Marino tomorrow: if Poland can beat Montenegro tomorrow that would be ideal.
However, this is football: and as Greg Dyke will be finding out over the next few years, things don’t always go to plan.
Another one of these daft pre-season friendlies tonight, but with an extra resonance to those of us who can still remember when the game against Scotland was one of the highlights of the season – it was the climax of the Home International tournament. From 1969 (when the tournament was moved to the end of the season rather than being spread throughout it) until the competition finished in May 1984, England v Scotland meant the end of the domestic season, not the start: today’s game will be the first time we’ve ever played each other in August.
However, this is a merely a curtain raiser to possibly the most important and potentially dramatic climaxes of any World Cup qualification programme for some time. With the remaining three qualifiers spread over the next two months, England actually can’t afford to mess about against the Scots tonight. Regardless of the fact that this is a friendly, England need to send a message to their forthcoming opponents.
A few quick facts. In the last four decades, the Scots have won three of the ten games at Wembley in that period and there have been no draws. Five of the last six matches have been low scoring: the last time both teams hit the onion bag was in a friendly before the 1986 World Cup. So strange as it may seem, the last three Scots to score against England at Wembley are John Robertson, Graeme Souness and Don Hutchinson.
As for the infamous pitch invasion in May 1977, let’s put that into context. Two years earlier, England had demolished Scotland 5-1 at Wembley in one of those performances that – briefly – made Keegan and company look like world beaters, although some dreadful goalkeeping from Stewart Kennedy didn’t help. No wonder the Scottish fans were overjoyed when they won.
This looks like a game we ought to win and if we do, we should enjoy it – it’s not likely to happen again for a while. The Scots are still the ‘Auld Enemy’, but in the sense that they are a former foe than an eternal one: perhaps we should all sing ‘Auld Lang Syne’ at the end of the game.
The 1-1 draw in Montenegro at the end of March was a disappointment as we’re now two points behind them and we could fall even further behind if they beat Ukraine in a few weeks. Even with a game in hand, a five point deficit with four games to play isn’t a great position to be in, although three of those last four games will be at Wembley…including a game against Poland nearly 40 years to the day after they knocked us out of the 1974 World Cup.
The game in Montenegro will probably always be remembered for something that didn’t happen. The alleged ‘racist chanting’ simply didn’t happen and FARE (or should that be FARCE) didn’t exactly cover themselves in glory either. We all know there have been some unsavoury elements amongst England fans over the years, but is an anti-racist organisation fabricating stories to both fit an agenda and get some cheap publicity any better? Not in my opinion.
Tomorrow the Republic Of Ireland visit Wembley for the first time since 1991 and next Sunday we’re playing Brazil in Rio. Those are the facts, but as usual there are a couple of angles behind the headlines.
The main one is the new kit. Despite having apparently supplied England with kit since Palmerston was Prime Minister, Umbro have been replaced by Nike. I don’t know if that means we’ve got to put up with numbers that look like a five year old made them from a roll of masking tape, but the new design has already caused some controversy because it looks like the last ‘plain’ West German kit.
The Irish game is the first time we’ve played them since the disgraceful scenes at the old Landsdown Road stadium in February 1995. Without wanting to go over old ground – but without wanting to sweep anything under the carpet – the unsavoury elements I mentioned earlier were out in force that night. Following the murder of Drummer Lee Rigby last week, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if some of the s0-called ‘fans’ who have attempted to hijack the England team for their own political agenda in the past attempt to do it again at Wembley.
Brazil is probably the more important game, but the timing is revealing. Supposedly part of the celebrations for the 150th anniversary of the FA, it also ties in nicely with the tests that the Brazilian FA are running to see if their infrastructure can cope with supporter numbers next year. There are however, some issues from the Brazilian point of view. A few weeks ago, two men were shot dead whilst on their way to the ‘test event’ at the stadium in Fortaleza and although the local World Cup organisers denied that the incident had anything to do with the World Cup, it was football related – the men that were killed were both fans of Fortaleza’s city rivals, Ceara.
The other issue with timing is one that’s familiar to us. The Brazilian national championship started last weekend, but rather than postponing the this weekend’s games, there are three league matches that start immediately after the friendly. However, that’s the way Brazilian football works.
There are no real suprises in the squad, although there’s some confusion over the difference between ‘captain’ and ‘skipper’: Ashley Cole wins his 100th cap tomorrow and will be at the front of the team when they take to the field, but Frank Lampard will probably do all the difficult bits like talking to the media without making a fool of himself.
England v Republic Of Ireland, 8:00pm, ITV 1.