Don’t Panic, It’s Only Bulgaria and Wales…
Over the next five days England have two very important games that will go a long way to resolving what you’ll be doing and where you’ll be doing it next Summer. The answer we’re all hoping for is ‘watching England playing in Euro 2012’ regardless of whether that’s in the Ukraine and Poland, in an Irish pub somewhere in the Med or (in my case) the biennial ritual hiding behind the sofa with the curtains drawn whilst swearing your head off and trying not to scare the neighbours.
We’re not in a bad position in the Euro 2012 qualifiers – equal top with Montenegro but with a superior goal difference – but Bulgaria will have to beat us tomorrow night to stand any chance of even qualifying for the play offs and that could be where the fun starts.
There are no real outfield surprises in the squad which was announced at the beginning of the week: ten players from the Manchester clubs, seven players from London teams (including Scott Parker, now of Spurs) and two each from Everton and Liverpool. The big issue is the reserve goalkeepers – Frank Fielding of Derby and David Stockdale of Ipswich are both playing in the Championship – but before anyone starts moaning about that, it’s only fair to point out that Birmingham City have reached the group stages of the Europa League. We should be proud of the standard of football in the Championship rather than moaning about the lack of decent goalkeepers in the Premier League, as some ‘journalists’ have been doing.
The good news is that England have never lost in Bulgaria and we’ve won two of the three games we’ve played there – the last victory was a 3-0 win in a qualifier for the 1980 European Championships, goals coming from Kevin Keegan of SV Hamburg and Peter Barnes and Dave Watson of Manchester City. Those of us with long memories will remember that despite Barnes being voted Young Player of The Year in 1979/80, not long after the game he was sold by Malcolm Allison to WBA; it’s hard to imagine Roberto Mancini doing that with either Adam Johnson or James Milner.
Wales can do us a massive favour before our meeting next Tuesday by beating Montenegro but I’ll be surprised if they do – the Red Dragons have only won four of their last ten home games – but it’s important to point out that the Montenegrins have only won once in their last ten away games (the win in Bulgaria last September) and lost in Albania last month. If the bookies are right, there won’t be any changes at the top of the group as England are currently best price 4/7 for the win in Sofia, while Montenegro are 6/4 to win at the Millennium Stadium.
Both our game and Wales v Montenegro are live on Sky Sports, but because of the difference in time zones and kick off times, instead of watching adverts and listening to expert analysis from Bulgaria at half time, you’ll be able to turn over and experience that sinking feeling familiar to football fans on the other side of the Bridge when you see that Wales have conceded an early goal…