Weekend Preview

It’ll have to be a quick one I’m afraid: Spurs v Man United was a great game, with a goal after 47 seconds and a United comeback. Unfortunately Man City v Arsenal will be remembered for Emmanuel Adebayor’s pathetic behaviour; Togo still have a slim chance of qualifying for South Africa (they have to win in Cameroon on 9th October and hope Morocco win in Gabon) so if you’re a fan of running almost the whole length of the pitch to take the mick out of the fans of your former club and stamping on the head of one of your ex-team mates then you might still be in for a treat.

The Saturday evening game on EPSN is Liverpool v West Ham, which will be of interest to England fans as five of the current squad will be featured, but from an England perspective the one game in the Premiership stands out this weekend: Man United v Man City. Nine current England of the most recent squad should be on show in classic local derby plus quite a few players from other countries that could feature in South Africa, although at the time of writing it’s not clear if Carlos Tevez will be playing for City…just as it’s not clear if he will be playing for Argentina in the World Cup. Lunchtime kick off on Sunday on Sky Sports 1 for that one.

Following the Manchester derby it’s an all London clash with Chelsea v Spurs, that – happily for England fans – should feature both Ashley and Joe Cole(I was going to write both Coles there, but I believe Cheryl has other commitments), the latter of whom made his first appearance in eight months in the Champions League game v FC Porto during the week. Messers Crouch, Defoe, Lampard, Lennon and Terry should also be involved.

We try not to make too many rash predictions here, but with the kind of hype surrounding the Manchester derby that’s been going on this week we wouldn’t be too surprised if a certain Manchester United striker (who had a bit of a strop in Turkey this week when he got subbed)  gets into some kind of trouble tomorrow. We hope not, but if he does, we’ll have the details here.

Quick Round Up For This Weekend

The list of confirmed qualifiers for next year is as follows:

Australia, Brazil, England, Ghana, Holland, Japan, North Korea, Paraguay, South Korea and Spain. Possibly the only surprise there is North Korea (making their second appearance in the finals) but all of these countries have qualified before. The play off situation is still wide open so we’ll take a look at that nearer the time; the other story that we’re monitoring is when (rather than if) Diego Maradona and Argentina part company. The last time Argentina failed to qualify was in 1970 but there’s a real chance they may be missing next year.

Back to the Premiership this weekend for all but one of the England squad: game of the day has to be Manchester United v Spurs (ESPN 5:15pm GMT) as it’s second v third and should feature a lot of England players. Arsenal v Manchester City should also be worth keeping an eye on.

Clive Tyledesley was on form on Wednesday, wasn’t he? Croatia are our ‘skeleton in blue’ (perhaps not any more), he mentioned France but obviously hadn’t been fed the information that not only were they losing but their goalkeeper had been sent off, Steven Gerrard is only a inch and a half taller than Dario Srna and Croatia is an old country (it became a kingdom in 924) but after union with Hungary in 1102 it eventually became part of the Hapsburg Empire and only became truly independent again in 1991.

Finally, did anyone else notice the pitchside advert informing us that beer is available in pubs? Thank goodness for that…I’d been wondering where I could get some for next year. Imagine if you could watch football in pubs, that’d be great!

Enjoy the weekend.

England v Croatia Preview

Brazil qualified at the weekend thanks to a 3-1 win in Argentina, who
are now fourth in the South American group, five points behind Chile and Paraguay and only two points in front of Colombia and Ecuador. If Ecuador win in Bolivia this evening or Colombia win in Uruguay and Argentina fail to pick up a point in Paraguay early on Thursday morning then either or
possibly both of them latter could leapfrog Diego’s boys. Even if Argentina manage to qualify there’s no guarantee that Maradona will be the coach, although I suppose it might be to our advantage if they did and he was!

It’s also still very tight in Central America, where Honduras, the USA,
Mexico and Costa Rica are potential qualifiers – the big game early tomorrow morning British time is when group leaders Honduras travel to Mexico, but the USA could take pole position if they beat Trinidad & Tobago.

Back to Europe and both Spain and ourselves can qualify this evening, although the reigning European Champions may need another game even if they beat Estonia; if Bosnia-Herzegovina beat Turkey they can still mathematically overtake Spain to win the group, although that’s a long shot at best and would need the type of collapse in form the Spanish normally experience once they qualify for a tournament.

So to our game. The mind games (or at least the attempted mind games) started a couple of weeks ago when Luka Modric broke his leg (shades of Eduardo); on Monday Slaven Bilic described the England team as missing ‘Englishness’, which in some ways is actually a backhanded compliment, although he may have meant Brylcreemed hair, pre-match fry ups, injections of monkey glands and the traditional half time fag with a pint of stout with a raw egg chaser.  I’m sure that if they discovered that the Austrian ref who sent off Spurs’ Vedran Corluka on Saturday had an English aunt that would have been brought up as proof of some kind of conspiracy theory…although Herr Plautz does have his own website: www.konradplautz.com

Anyway, we’ve got a mixed record against the Croats – they’ve won two of the last three meetings – and there hasn’t been a draw since the first time we played them, back in April 1996. Their away form is very impressive – their last defeat was a 0-2 reverse in Macedonia in a Euro 2008 qualifier in November 2007 and they’re currently on a ten game undefeated away run.

Six of the team that started against us when we won 4-1 last September played in the 1-0 win against Belarus on Saturday: Simunic, Srna, Pranjic, Rakitic (who scored the winning goal) and Olic. Additionally Pokrivac, Petric and Mandzukic (who scored the Croatian consulation goal in last year’s game) were all on the bench. There are quite are few familiar names there: Kranjcar, Eduardo and Klasnic are all currently plying their trade in England and if Modric had been fit and Corluka hadn’t been suspended then
the majority of the potential starting XI would have been Premiership regulars.

I would imagine that the England line up will be similar to the one  on Saturday, although Fabio Capello may make some minor tweaks to the formation simply because Modric and Corluka are missing – we may be a bit more adventurous through the midfield for example – and because Croatia need the points more than we do. Bilic is an adept enough tactician to be able to pose England problems without Modric (packing the midfield and trying to pick off Glen Johnson might work) but to some extent Croatia without Modric is like England without Wayne Rooney: dangerous but not quite the same threat.

One thing will be obvious though. If we qualify, this is the type of game England need to be prepared for next summer: tough opposition used to playing Premiership players with a capable coach with experience of and respect for British football. Not to mention increased fan expectations, which will go through the roof once qualification is ensured.

ITV and Radio 5 will be covering the game and as we’ll be watching it there’ll probably be some garbled nonsense on twitter or posted here at half time and (depending on the result) either a period of mournful silence or lots of over excited capital letters with far too many exclamation marks when it’s over.

Difficult not to be excited though, isn’t it? Now stop reading this and get on with your work.

Quick Slovenia preview

Slovenia are no mugs internationally speaking: since independence from the old Yugoslavia in 1991, they reached both Euro 2000 and the 2002 World Cup and they are currently ranked 57th in the world and 31st in Europe (which puts them ahead of Wales!) and they lie third in World Cup qualifying group three, two points behind Northern Ireland with three games left to play.

With a population of just over 2 million – about the size of Greater Manchester – it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that nearly all of the squad play outside Slovenia. Their best known player is Robert Koren of West Brom, who also holds the record for the most international appearances. The potential goal scoring threat is Milivoje Novakovic of FC Koln who is a big unit and will test our defenders; on that subject, Gary Cahill of Bolton has been called up to provide cover for Wes Brown and John Terry – it’ll be interesting to see if he gets any playing time today.

Coverage on ITV starts at 4:45pm GMT and we’ll have the result when it comes in; over the next couple of days we’ll have a round up of the rest of today’s qualifiers.