Well Saturday couldn’t have gone any better, could it! A four goal win away from home, six wins out of six, our nearest rivals drawing and a seven point lead going into a home game against the bottom team in the group.
Not the time to get complacent though, even though the facts are overwhelming: Andorra have only ever picked up a point away from home in the World Cup qualifiers (against Macedonia in 2005) and have never won an away game. They scored against Belarus on Saturday, defender Ildefons LimaÂ notched in the last minute but by that time the Belarussians had scored five. Lima – Andorra’s all time leading scorer – plays for AS Triestina in Italy’s Serie BÂ whereas the rest of the AndorranÂ squad playÂ for minorÂ Spanish clubs or in the eight team Andorran league.
On the other hand, we ‘ve onlyÂ lost two home World Cup qualifiersÂ since 1997 (Italy and Germany) and haven’t been beaten at home since Croatia knocked us out of Euro 2008. Not much to report on the England team today, although it’s worth keeping an eye on whether Theo Walcott will play or not seeing as though he’s supposed to be playing for the under 21s later this week (and apparentlyÂ if Arsene Wenger had his way he wouldn’t even be playing for them)Â and that Beckham, Johnson and Heskey would all miss the Croatia game if they were booked tomorrow night.
We’re going to try something a bit different tomorrow night: a commentary on twitter – if you want to follow it follow us on Twitter http://twitter.com/11lions . Can’t guarantee what time coverage will start and as I’ll be watching the BritishÂ Lions latest tour game,Â I’ve got a ‘Big Brother’ issue with my other half and if England score an early goal it might turn into a discussion aboutÂ ITVs coverage
Couple of non-football notes to finish on: there’s a tube strike on London Underground tomorrow and having been up to Wembley three times since it reopened I can only begin to imagine how much chaos that might cause. There have been various reports this evening that Setanta is facing administration – which raises the question of which channel might carry England away games if/when SentantaÂ goes down the tubes…sorry, couldn’t resist that one.
Enjoy the game!
Despite an injury list that would be extremely worrying ifÂ the situation was repeatedÂ in South Africa next year, weâ€™re going into the next two qualifiers in an extremely favourable position to ensure automatic qualification. We should beat Kazakhstan on Saturday (4:00pm on Setanta, highlights 10:00pm on ITV) and Andorra on Wednesday (7:45pm on ITV), but arguably the most important game in the group is the one between Croatia and the Ukraine, which kicks off at 7:15pm on Saturday: itâ€™s pretty safe to say that if Ukraine lose, theyâ€™re unlikely to get to South Africa next summer, leaving the Croats as the only obstacle to overcome.
So what do we know about the Kazahk team? Their home record in the World Cup is pretty poor â€“ apart from a 3-0 win over Andorra last August theyâ€™ve lost every single one of their other home qualifiers, most recently a 5-1 defeat by Belarus in April. Theyâ€™re currently ranked 137th in the world and 47th(out of 53) in Europe – just worse than Luxembourg â€“ so theyâ€™re the second weakest team in our group after Andorra, despite being the ninth largest country in the world. The game is being held in Almaty (which isnâ€™t the capital city but is the largest city in the country), which apparently means â€˜full of applesâ€™. The players to watch out for in a squad without a great deal of international experienceÂ are striker Sergei Ostapenko (4 goals in 19 appearances) and midfielder Ruslan Baltiev, who is the most capped player in the squad (70). Unusually these days, none of the Kazakh squad play their club football outside the country, although some of them have played abroad (normally in Russia) in the past.
The starting England eleven for tomorrowâ€™s game hasnâ€™t been announced at the time of writing, but the main issues are who will be in goal and the composition of the back four. Iâ€™d be tempted to give the gloves to Robert Green, who deserves another chance to show what he can do as the other options are Scott Carson (who will be playing in the Championship with WestÂ Brom nextÂ season) and Paul Robinson. After Rio Ferdinand dropped out, Fabio Capello brought Gary Cahill of Bolton Wanderers in as a replacement central defender, but if Green does start in goal then I think it makes sense for Matt Upson of West Ham to partner John Terry in central defence instead of Joleon Lescott.
Currently England are 1/6 favourites to win, with a 2-0 win around 5/1 and Wayne Rooney to score first at about 10/3. I think the two goal margin is a fair one, but having scored in their last twelve consecutive home games Iâ€™d be surprised if Kazakhstan donâ€™t score.