Assessing Montenegro’s Chances Against England

by on March 25, 2013
in Previews, World Cup 2014

I’ve got to say that 8-0 was what I was hoping for on Friday, but the best part about that win was the dramatic improvement in the goal difference. Tomorrow’s game is a much sterner test – in his first article for the site, guest contributor Owen Barnes tells us what to expect.

The Montenegrins now stand two points clear of England – however the dismissal of crucial midfielder Nikola Peković may prove costly to their chances of winning tomorrow’s game.

Montenegro started the game against Moldova leading group H, previously beating San Marino 3-0 in a match they dominated. With England trampling over the San Marino side 8-0 we can imagine many English supporters rubbing their hands at tomorrow’s fixture. However, with Stefan Jovetić and Vučinić leading the front line for the national side England cannot afford to be complacent.

The controversial issue with Rio Ferdinand’s absence in previous games may give Montenegro a chance to pounce. Ferdinand has been brilliant for Manchester United in the past month and they may feel his absence against the two technically-gifted strikers. However Hodgson seems confident that the pairing Phil Jagielka and Tim Cahill can deny the Serie A strikers of causing any upsets, despite Moldova only having two shots with none on target.

England will start the game as favourites, with their star man Wayne Rooney scoring six goals in his past four games for the lions. He has shown consistency, which could be the lack of pressure from his club allowing him to focus on his international career, but he will need to be in top form to solve any sticky situations he faces. The potential attacking force of Rooney, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Ashley Young can cause serious problems for the opposition’s back line. Link up play from team mates Young and Rooney as well as the pace of Oxlade-Chamberlain will produce goals, assists and flair as seen in the San Marino game.

As the Moldovans came close to scoring within two minutes of the kick off last Friday, the English front three are certainly with the ability of causing havoc for Montenegro. Moldova dealt with the efforts of Jovetić and Vučinić very nicely, but the Montenegrin strikers will also continuously test England’s defence. Having netted 23 goals between them in Italy this season, their total of five shots on target tested the Moldovan keeper Serghei Pascenco, who did well to keep the game at deadlock until the 78th minute, where Vučinić proved his finishing with a scrappy volley inside the penalty box. One possible area for English concern is when Jovetić is standing over the ball in set pieces: when San Marino were in the English half for a corner there was some doubt how England would cope. Thankfully Kyle Walker was able to rescue the lions by dribbling a good 60 yards down the right hand side to put San Marino back under pressure.

With England having an advantage in goal difference, a clean sheet at the Podgorica Stadium would be a real achievement. Hodgson may look at James Milner for stability, which could mean allowing Tom Cleverley to rest. The absence of Jack Wilshere could be costly for the English midfield unless all midfielders put in a good shift. A big test awaits for England and they must maintain possession and keep the ball away from Montenegro’s attacking force.

Predicted score: 2-1 England (Rooney, Lampard) (Jovetic)

Betting odds (SkyBets): England 4/5, Montenegro 7/2.

England Possible Line-up (4-4-2) Joe Hart, Kyle Walker, Phil Jagielka, Michael Carrick, Leighton Baines; Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, James Milner, Frank Lampard, Ashley Young; Wayne Rooney, Jermain Defoe.

Yes, It Was A Fantastic Goal. But That’s Not The Point.

by on November 15, 2012
in Friendlies, World Cup 2014

First of all, I’m not really that interested in friendlies. I didn’t watch the game last night: my mother in law did and she sent me a text saying ‘what a goal’ because she was watching it. I turned over, thinking Sweden had equalised (I imagined the score was still 2-1) but I had to watch the end of the game to see Zlatan Ibrahimovic score his wonder goal…and surely I’m not the only person who thought that Joe Hart was to blame for it.

The real story last night happened in Montenegro. Two goals from Andrija Delibasic and one from Elsad Zverotic gave the hosts a 3-0 win over San Marino and sent Montengro back to the top of World Cup Qualifying Group H: having played the same amount of games, the Montenegrins have two more points and exactly the same goal difference. We play them in Podgorica at the end of March 2013 in a game that will go a long to way to determining who wins the group and who has to face the playoffs – and at the moment, that could mean a potential tie with France, Croatia or Sweden.

So although it was good to see three young debutants in Stockholm last night – and not forgetting that Steven Gerrard reached a genuine milestone, for which he deserves congratulations – the result is a little worrying. England have only kept four clean sheets in the last ten games and only one of those teams (Italy) is what you’d describe as a world footballing power. As much as I don’t want to sound like a grumpy git, I think the remaining World Cup qualifiers may be not as straightforward as we’d all like to think. We’ll see: the next game is against Brazil in February but if Neymar or Hulk (another player who ‘doesn’t do well against English teams’) are on form then it might not be pleasant viewing.

Tonight’s Priority: Don’t Lose.

by on October 16, 2012
in Previews, World Cup 2014

Tonight’s game is the last World Cup qualifier this year: the next one is in San Marino in March and although England have a three point lead and a superior goal difference, it’s important to remember that we’ve played one more game than our nearest rivals – and that Montenegro’s game in hand is against San Marino next month, the same night we have a friendly against Sweden.

In that context, avoiding defeat in Warsaw tonight is vital. The good news is that in our eight games in Poland since July 1966, we’ve only lost once – the traumatic defeat in June 1973. Even though I was only eight, I knew it was an important game: some of my school friends came round just before kick off to ask me if I wanted to go outside to play on my bike: I remember leaning out of the front room window at my parents’ house and telling them I wasn’t coming out because I was going to watch the football.

In retrospect, I should’ve gone out.

The bad news is that we’ve only won three of our trips to Poland, but although our hosts are probably a second tier side in terms of European national football, they aren’t exactly mugs either: they’ve only lost three of their last 20 games at home but that includes a surprising defeat to the Czechs in the European Championships last summer that ended Polish hopes of qualification from the group stage.

The current Polish squad are a cosmopolitan lot: they play in ten different countries although the majority of them are based at home or in the Bundesliga: current leading goalscorer Robert Lewandowski plays for Borussia Dortmund, as does influential midfielder Jakub Blaszczykowski, but the latter will be missing tonight due to injury. Although there”s a lot experience within the Polish side, goals have been in short supply: they’ve only scored more than two goals in one of their matches in the last year and that was against Andorra. The only player based in England is Tomasz Kuszczak (currently of Brighton) although he’ll probably start the game on the bench.

The lack of Polish goals is actually a good thing for England: we’ve only been shut out once in the last 20 games (Italy in the quarter finals of the European Championship) and we’ve scored in four of the last the five games in Poland so one might be enough. I’m expecting Roy Hodgson to pick his strongest (and most experienced) team to start this evening, with Steven Gerrard replacing Wayne Rooney as captain and Ashley ‘Pottymouth’ Cole to return at left back. Theo Walcott won’t play any part this evening after he was clattered by Aldo Simoncini on Friday evening.

To return to the main theme, not losing tonight is crucial but coming away with a point wouldn’t necessarily be the end of the world either, especially if Montenegro are unable to win in Ukraine tonight – and that game starts an hour before ours, so we should have at least some idea how that’s going when the teams take the field tonight.

 

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Wanted: Goals. Lots Of Them.

by on October 12, 2012
in Previews, World Cup 2014

It’s back to the World Cup after a month or so off, so a quick recap on the overall position: we’re level on points with Montenegro and Poland but have an inferior goal difference to the Montenegrins. After San Marino we have to play Poland in Warsaw next Tuesday: for those of us that have reached a certain age, playing Poland in the World Cup is a bitter sweet experience that ranges from the realisation that Bobby Moore’s international career was over to the joy of Gary Lineker’s hat trick in Mexico more or less saving Sir Bobby Robson’s job.

Montenegro don’t play tonight, but they have a tough looking trip to Ukraine on Tuesday, so this evening’s game is a good time to play the worst team in the world – that’s official: along with Bhutan and the Turks and Caicos Islands, San Marino are mired at the bottom of the FIFA rankings. It might also be a good time for England to find their shooting boots, as we’ve not scored more than three goals at Wembley since September 2010.

To be honest, Roy Hodgson could’ve picked a squad from the Football League that could probably beat San Marino. All but one member of their current squad play in the Sammarinese league: the exception is midfielder Mirko Palazzi, who plays for Rimini in the Italian equivalent of League 2. Most capped player is defender Damiano Vannucci and the main goalscoring threat is Andy Selva, who has bagged eight goals in 55 games since 1998 and has the honour of scoring the only goal in the only game San Marino have ever won: a 1-0 victory over Liechtenstein in 2004.

There’s not much to report from the England squad before the game other than Frank Lampard and Ryan Bertrand will be missing and there was a press fuelled debate about who should be captain before Wayne Rooney was given the job, but other than that this game is a good opportunity to make a statement. Both the Polish and the Dutch have reached double figures against San Marino recently and in the context of having to score as many goals as possible to ensure a first place finish, that’s tonight’s priority.

Result: England 5, San Marino 0. Considering San Marino had lost five of their last six games by more than five goals, I don’t see how this can be seen as anything other than a reasonable result. It took over 35 minutes to break the deadlock and although England ran out easy winners in the end, since 2007 only Moldova, Northern Ireland and Cyprus have beaten San Marino by scoring fewer goals. The other worrying aspect of the game – apart from Clive Tyldesley not knowing that Jakub Blaszczykowski is injured and won’t be playing for Poland next week – was that England lost Theo Walcott after ten minutes following a collision with Aldo Simoncini.

Ukraine Almost Pull Off A Shock Win

by on September 12, 2012
in World Cup 2014

Let’s not kid ourselves, that wasn’t anywhere near as good a performance as was expected

It’s all very well having low expectations, but I think it’s fair to say we were lucky to get away with a point last night. With other results going against us, England are now in second place in Group H on goal difference and it could have been worse. Without wanting to sound too alarmist, this group may come down to who scores the most goals against San Marino, in which case we may be lucky it’s our turn to play them next.

Of course, you could also argue that if Steven Gerrard had to be suspended for one game after picking up a stupid red card, San Marino would be the one most people would pick. As a kid in the early seventies I remember an FA crackdown on ‘the tackle from behind’ and although that would have been a decade or so before Gerrard was born, I’m a little bit surprised that he doesn’t know those tackles are illegal. As for Danny Welbeck’s attempt to win a penalty, that proved a couple of things: my eyesight is better than Andy Townsend’s and that Welbeck and Ashley Young have obviously been exchanging notes about diving in the penalty box.

It’ll be fascinating to see how Roy Hogdson reacts to the subtle change of circumstances. Four of the starting XI last night are over 30 and with neither of the youngest players looking particularly impressive last night it’s time to dust off the clichés about this team being ‘in transition’ or ‘a work in progress’…but you have to wonder if the current team will be anywhere near the finished article in two years time or whether some of the new faces will still be in contention if England qualify for the World Cup.

England have two further rolls of the dice before the end of the year, although you’d be hard pressed to find any value backing us to win the group or finish in the top two – you’d be better off taking a look at casino odds if you fancy a flutter – but England’s price to win the World Cup in Brazil began to drift after last night’s game finished. Not surprisingly, Brazil remain favourites.

Another England Win On The Cards?

After Friday’s stroll over Moldova, it’s Ukraine again tonight for the second time in less than three months. Since May 2000 they’ve played here three times and lost all of those games, scoring only one goal (Andriy Shevchenko’s equaliser in the 2-1 World Cup qualifier win in April 2009) so Roy and the team will be looking to pick up another three points in their quest to reach Brazil in less than two years time.  With Montenegro and Poland having drawn 2-2 on Friday (the Poles took the lead in Podgorica but fell behind at half time: they equalised just before the hour), after one game England are already two points clear at the top of Group H.

Another England win would be very useful indeed – I can’t see Poland losing to Moldova and Montenegro shouldn’t have any problems in San Marino this evening – as an early lead in the group before going into a home game with one of the weakest sides in Europe next month would be an ideal position before arguably the toughest game in the group.

Ukraine’s away over the last year hasn’t been particularly impressive: they’ve beaten Estonia and Israel but lost their other four road trips and seem to be having goalscoring issues, especially now that Shevchenko has retired and chosen to take up a career in the minefield that is Ukrainian politics. One goal in their last five games isn’t particularly inspiring and the two recognised strikers in the current squad have scored a grand total of three times in 27 combined appearances – although Marko Devic would have had another if it hadn’t been for the incompetence of the fourth official back in June. Unusually these days, almost all of the Ukraine team play at home: only reserve goalkeeper Andriy Dikan and captain Anatoliy Timoshchuk play abroad, although only Timoshchuk plays in what we used to call ‘Western Europe’.

We’re missing a few players for tonight’s match: Ashley Cole and John Terry are injured while Theo Walcott has been ‘violently ill’ after picking up a bug…I doubt if it’s the Stella Flu though. Raheem Stirling of Liverpool, Spurs’ Jake Livermore and Adam Lallana of Southampton have been called up but I’d be amazed if any of them got off the bench tonight. I must admit I like the way that Hodgson is not afraid to draft in younger players: even if it’s just for the experience, it shows them that they could be a part of the England setup if they continue to make progress with their clubs. The problem for Southampton is that international recognition for Lallana probably means he’ll be leaving them at some point, but as long as he doesn’t end up at Liverpool he could have a promising international career.

It’s an 8:00pm kick off this evening, although if you’re a masochist Clive Tyldesley and all his chums will be on air on ITV1 at 7:30pm – so that looks like a good time to go to the chip shop to me. Battered sausage for me please.

The Long Road to Rio starts with Moldova

by on September 7, 2012
in World Cup 2014

It begins tonight. The road to Rio and a chance for Roy Hodgson to begin his long term England plan, starting with Moldova in front of what is more than likely to be a hostile crowd in the Zimbru Stadium in Chisinau.

The pitch hasn’t impressed the backroom staff or players and Ion Caras’s side are likely to put up a stubborn defense, but there can’t be any excuses if England don’t grab three points tonight.

And so to the team. No Rooney, of course. Ashley Cole, Andy Carroll and Adam Johnson are also injured. Johnson injuring himself during training and will now be watching the game on TV or playing european roulette. Cole hopes to be fit for Tuesday’s qualifier against the Ukraine and Carroll is out for at least six weeks with a ham string injury.

Leighton Baines is set to start for the first time in a competitive game. Hodgson is well covered for wide players with James Milner, Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Daniel Sturridge and Danny Welbeck can also play wide. Senior players Terry, Lampard, Carrick and Gerrard also figure in the England set-up.

The question is this; will failing to cull older players and allowing a younger team to gel at the beginning of the campaign turn out to be a mistake? Experience over youth, youth over experience – the ole’ chestnut.

 

Hodgson Names Puzzling Squad for Italy Friendly

It’s still very disconcerting to have to play friendlies before the domestic season has begun, especially when the game is against a team that knocked us out of Euro 2012 and when some of the squad have just returned from Olympic Games duty with Team GB. Nonetheless, the campaign to qualify for the next World Cup in Brazil is underway: guest blogger Richard Smith of www.englandbettingodds.com takes a look at what might best be described as a developmental squad.

With two 2014 World Cup qualifiers against Moldova and Ukraine coming up next month, England manager, Roy Hodgson, has named a rather puzzling squad to face Italy in a friendly in Switzerland this week that would appear to be more about players proving their England futures rather than a group of new and young players becoming the nucleus of the team that will form the team’s future and World Cup aspirations.

Hodgson has recalled both Frank Lampard and Michael Carrick and both look like starting in central midfield againstItaly, despite both being in their 30s. Lampard in fact has been named as captain, which would appear to confirm the long standing fear of most England fans that the manager finds it almost impossible to select a side that does not include both Lampard and the officially appointed captain Steven Gerrard.

It seemed that Hodgson, now having got Euro 2012 out of the way, would set his stall out with a squad that had a youthful bias, interspersed with experienced players such as Gerrard who remain at an age to make it all the way through to the World Cup of 2014. However, the inclusion of Lampard and Carrick suggests that the “old guard” still feature prominently in current thinking although he has left out, somewhat mysteriously, John Terry.

Also included in Hodgson’s squad are Jermaine Defoe and Andy Carroll, neither of whom look likely to be playing first team football this season as it stands. Carroll is clearly out of favour at Anfield after the club accepted an approach from West Ham to loan the striker only for the player to turn down the move and Defoe is being linked with a move away from White Hart Lane. It is interesting to note that Daniel Sturridge is included after missing Euro 2012, yet Danny Welbeck, one of his Euro 2012 preferred front men as been ignored.

There is no Rio Ferdinand and Scott Parker is out due to injury. Stewart Downing and Joleon Lescott are also missing .

On the positive side,  Hodgson has included Tom Cleverley, has recalled Adam Johnson of Manchester City, Kyle Walker of Spurs and has kept the faith with young Arsenal pair Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Theo Walcott. He also found a place for Ashley Young who disappointed at the Euros.

In fairness to Hodgson, the last game he would have wanted would have been a “friendly” againstItaly, who of course knocked Englandout of Euro 2012 via the penalty shoot-out just a matter of weeks ago.

However, World Cup qualification comes around very quickly and for Hodgson and England, a good start to the campaign is essential. Moldova and Ukraine should be a six point start, however, England fans witnessed what Ukraine almost did to England at Euro 2012. We all know that they were cheated out of an equaliser in Kiev and as such, will come to Wembley on September 11th looking for some sort of retribution. Moldova of course are somewhat of an unknown entity although Holland struggled to beat them in a Euro 2012 qualifier in Moldova last year winning only 1-0.

It will be very interesting to see how England perform against Italy but it will be even more interesting to see what squad Hodgson opts for come the World Cup qualifiers? The real test for Hodgson begins now…

 

England fixtures in 2012

by on July 31, 2012
in World Cup 2014

Team GB get off to a mixed start at the London Olympics and although the football is a bit of a sideshow to the other events, to teams like Brazil it’s not only a vital warm up to their home World Cup, but a frustration as Olympic gold is the only major title they’ve yet to win.

Let’s take a brief look at the England games for the rest of 2012.

The rest of the England fixture this year starts, as it finished in Euro 2012 with a game against Italy in the Stade de Suisse Wankdorf, Berne in Switzerland.

Needless to say it isn’t a very popular fixture with league managers, just 3 days before the start of the domestic season, who no doubt will be watching their players going through the motions in Berne with gritted teeth.

Hodgson has stated that he will use the friendly in Berne to look at some of the players that did not take part in the Euro games.

Players that spring to mind include; Jack Wilshere, Kyle Walker and Tom Cleverley as well as Daniel Sturridge, Ross Barkley and Jack Rodwell.

Then the road to Brazil begins and England play Moldova on September 7th and then Ukraine on the 11th. San Marino and Poland follow in October.

Brazil will no doubt be one big party, like a session on partycasino.com, but nothing can be taken for granted in reaching the World Cup. England need to improve and deliver where it matters.

There are certainly lessons to be learned from the European championships; wasting possession and counter-attacking opportunities perhaps a core reason England struggled in that last game, although not many will deny the hard work most players put in. Technical players like Lampard and Barry were also certainly missed but improving the quality in the team is now high on Hodgson’s list.

Capello on Hand To See Swans Fly

Easily the best footballing side in the Championship last season, it’s hardly a surprise that Swansea have been attracting a lot of positive attention due to their performances in the Premier League. Thomas Rooney thinks a couple of Swans should be given a chance in the England squad and if the widely predicted changes happen after Euro 2012, Thomas has a point!

While The F.A were busy announcing an upcoming friendly fixtures against Holland, it was Swansea that were evoking memories of the Dutch pass masters of years gone by as they sauntered past Arsenal while Fabio Capello watched on from the rocking Liberty Stadium stands.

Those studying mobile free bets note how Brendan Rodgers’ side have become the feel-good story of the season, and the fairy-tale ending, or at least the pinnacle of their achievements this season, likely came as Danny Graham slotted home the winner against Arsenal recently. Although Capello may have come to cast his eye over Theo Walcott, who despite getting on the scoresheet continues to be an enigma when it comes to producing consistently decent performances.

Although Walcott may have been in Capello’s thoughts before the game it was the Welsh outfit’s band of Englishmen that would have occupied his drive home to the capital after the game.

Scott Sinclair, Nathan Dyer and Danny Graham have all proved themselves wonderfully capable of adapting to life in the Premier League, and soon they will be joined by another precocious talent, Chelsea’s Josh McEachran who completed his loan move from the capital earlier this week.

Graham in particular has thrust himself into the limelight ever since his move from Watford over the summer with his clinical and powerful finishing.

Dyer and Sinclair have long been talents that have been marked for bright futures – few would have envisaged however that they would find a home and room to flourish with a newly promoted side given little chance of survival by the experts. These three fit seamlessly into a side that contains no less than seven men who would be available to Capello, and it is their style of play along with their results that have won them praise this season.

Occupying a large point of the Italian’s mind ever since the draw took place, is of course Euro 2012, and he will already have in his mind an almost fully formed picture of the squad he will take with him into battle once more.

It is unlikely any player wearing the white of Swansea will make it into his final squad. It is their effervescence as a unit that appeals most about Swansea, their philosophy under Rodgers that brings them together and allows them to out-pass the finest English passing side of the last twenty years, Arsenal.

But while they may miss out on Capello’s final squad, perhaps due to the lateness of their charge or even the fact they come from a distinctly unfashionable club, there are few who would begrudge Swansea their success. Keep your eye open for a few of them in Rio in 2014, at least a few of them will be there, at the World Cup.

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