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.

Frank Lampard Ruled Out

After picking up a thigh strain on Wednesday afternoon, Frank Lampard is out of the England squad for Euro 2012. He’ll be replaced by Liverpool’s Jordan Henderson.

I’ll update this post tomorrow, but from where I’m sitting I wonder if this is the end of Lampard’s international career. He’ll be almost 36 by the time the World Cup takes place in Brazil in a couple of years time: I suppose it’s possible that he could take part in the qualifiers, but with the current squad containing younger, alternative options then it might be better if Roy Hodgson explores those possibilities.

Having said that, there won’t be any argument about whether Lampard and Gerrard can play together in midfield this summer. This could be a blessing in disguise, but I suspect that we might see an even more conservative England line up against France than we were expecting.

Hodgson Faces Key Decisions On Captain, Strikers.

Roy Hodgson will be naming the England squad for Euro 2012 on Wednesday – and so Thomas Rooney takes a look at some of the candidates for the crucial positions: team captain and goal scoring options another than the Spud Faced Nipper.

With the European Championships just round the corner, there lots of talk as ever about who should be given the captain’s armband for the tournament in Poland and Ukraine.

Scott Parker is amongst favourites amongst punters looking to trade using this back to lay calculator to lead the side out for the Championships. Parker has been one of the best English players in the Premier League this season and his knack of avoiding controversy means he may be the ideal candidate.

The Tottenham midfielder has only made eleven caps for his country but with his form this campaign will surely be one of the first names on the team sheet.

Parker has made 28 appearances for Spurs this season, despite not getting himself on the score-sheet he has been instrumental for his team when he has played and really seems to make them tick.

The ex-West Ham United man is vital to making sure the likes of Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon can get forward as much as possible, filling in the gaps they leave when attacking.

This would be the role he would play for the England side who will want to use the pace of the likes of Ashley Young, Theo Walcott, Lennon and Adam Johnson a lot throughout the tournament.

Parker will be the player to hold the midfield together and make England play in the same way he does for his club.

Other candidates as far as those over at best betting sites are concerned include Joe Hart. The Manchester City man would also be a decent choice as he looks certain to be England’Â’s number one for the foreseeable future: he’s also a very vocal player and being a goalkeeper, can see the whole game.

England require a leader on the pitch, someone to set an example to the rest of the players and drive the team on. Parker is the perfect man for this role in the team, with Hart as vice captain.

Moving onto attacking options, it’ll be interesting to see if Aston Villa striker Darren Bent is fit for the European Championships this summer after an injury that has kept him out of action since February. If Bent is fit, should Roy Hodgson include him in his squad?

In Bent, England have one of the best finishers the Premier League has seen in recent years. His goals seem to go under the radar sometimes and apart from a slight dip at Tottenham, he has scored regularly wherever he has played.

However at Spurs, he did manage 18 goals in sixty appearances, which is not too bad for the worst goal scoring form of his career. So it should be interesting to see what price Bent is for the Golden Boot in the 2012 euro betting odds.

The Englishman had scored nine times in the Premier League this campaign until he was injured in a game against Wigan, it’s quite safe to say Aston Villa would not find themselves as low down the table as they are if they had a fit Darren Bent at the disposal for the whole season.

The former Sunderland striker is an old fashioned goal poacher, he may only touch the ball a few times in the game but ends up scoring two goals and winning his team the game.

The England side does not have a great deal of players similar to Bent, someone whose sole purpose is to find the back of the net. The other option could be Jermaine Defoe, although he has spent the majority of the season coming off the bench so may be suited to that role during the summer.

If the 28-year-old is fully fit he could be the ideal partner for Wayne Rooney in the later stages of the tournament, he also capable of playing up front on his own during Rooney’s suspension in the first two matches.

Bent and Rooney should go to Euros as the Three Lions two main strikers, with Jermaine Defoe, Peter Crouch and Daniel Sturridge all waiting in the wings. This front line includes height, pace, strength, skill and finishing – a winning formula.

Update: Hodgson has made one interesting decision today – Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville joins the coaching staff with immediate effect.

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…

Accusations, Bribes – And There’s A Game On Too

After all this week’s nonsense, it’s time for a competitive game!

The situation at the top of Group G couldn’t be any tighter – we’re top of the group on goal difference from Montenegro, who face Bulgaria at home after we’ve finished against Switzerland.

Let’s start with a sanity warning here. This is not going to be an easy game: Switzerland have only lost two of their last ten ‘true’ away games (I’m deliberately not going to count the games in the 2010 World Cup as they were played at neutral venues) and although they’ve had problems scoring outside Switzerland, they’ve kept clean sheets in half of those matches.

We’ve never lost to Switzerland at home and tomorrow would be a very bad time to start, especially as two of our last three qualifiers are away games in Montenegro and Bulgaria. The Montenegrins also have to travel (to Wales and Switzerland) but the pressure on them isn’t the same way as it is with us – this was a group we were supposed to easily qualify from but all credit goes to Zlatko Kranjčar and his team for not allowing that to happen; a competitive qualifying group also introduces a healthy sense of reality into the procedings for a change.

The one big advantage we have is that there are goals throughout the side – although the Spud Faced Nipper will be missing tomorrow (too many yellow cards), it’s worth pointing out that he hasn’t scored at Wembley since the 5-1 win over Croatia in September 2009. If Peter Crouch can return to the type of form he showed before the World Cup I’d expect him to get on the scoresheet.

The Swiss squad contains a few familiar faces – Johan Djourou, Phillipe Senderos and Valon Behrami (now at Fiorentina) should be well known to fans of Premier League clubs – but coach Ottmar Hitzfeld doesn’t have any issues when it comes to including younger players in the senior side. Midfielders Xherdan Shaqiri and Granit Xhaka (both FC Basel) are still in their teens, while the three recognised strikers are all under 23 years old – despite being only 22, Bayer Leverkusen’s Eren Derdiyok already has 31 caps.

Verdict: I honestly can’t see Switzerland winning tomorrow, but it’s important to remember that we’ve not beaten anyone at Wembley since the win over Bulgaria last September and the Swiss have only lost once (in Macedonia) in their four aways since the World Cup. I also can’t see Switzerland being able achieve a third consecutive away goalless draw but I think it’ll be closer than most people think. If I was a gambling man (stop laughing at the back please) I’d go for an England win in a low scoring game.

TV details are as follows: England v Switzerland is on ITV1 (so it might be an idea to dig out a radio just in case) but even though Montenegro’s game kicks off after ours, it’s only being broadcast ‘as live’ on ESPN in the UK at 11:45pm. However, if you can’t wait, there are some excellent online resources for live football scores that are an awful lot easier to use than waiting for Teletext updates used to be.

Result: England 2, Switzerland 2. Coming back from two goals down at home is better than nothing, but getting to that stage in the first place is an indictment of some very sloppy end of season defending. Fortunately Ivelin Popov equalised for Bulgaria in Montenegro, so we’re still top of the group. Next competitive game is in Bulgaria on Friday 2nd September.

Didn’t He Write Music For Westerns?

We’ve got a big game tonight, against the undefeated group leaders. So what do we know about Montenegro?

It’s another one of those places that used to be part of a country that no longer exists – it’s been independent a number of times but always seems to be swallowed up by bigger neighbours: Venice, the Ottoman Empire and finally Yugoslavia – the reason that we call the country Montenegro is because that’s what the Venetians named it, although the locals use ‘Crna Gora’ which also means ‘Black Mountain’.

It’s a tiny place – 2/3rds the size of Wales with a slightly bigger population than Leeds – and finally became independent in May 2006; the following month Serbia & Montenegro took part in the World Cup in Germany but lost all three first round games. The Montenegrin national team has only been active since March 2007 and is currently managed by Niko Krancjar’s dadZlatko.

So basically we’re playing one of those countries that are capable of producing decent players, but to think of them as some kind of emerging power would be completely wrong. Their recent win in Bulgaria was only their second victory outside Montenegro since October 2007 and they’ve lost five of their last ten away games – in the last year they’ve drawn in Dublin and lost to Macedonia and Norway which seems to me to be a far better indicator of what sort of a team they are. Apart from Italy, they’ve not faced any heavyweight international opponents…stop giggling at the back please. We are international heavyweights – we regularly get beaten in the final stages of tournaments, not in the group stages. So there.

The team that beat Switzerland in Podgorica on Friday is what you might expect. None of the starting eleven play in Montenegro; with the exception of Branko Boskovic (who plays for DC United in the USA) the rest of the players are spread around Europe: only Simon Vukcevic (Sporting Lisbon) and captain Mirko Vucinic (Roma) play for Champions League/Europa League standard teams.

Apart from John Terry and Darren Bent having to sit out, Fab has a pretty much full strength squad to call on. Rio Ferdinand’s return from the injury that kept him out of the World Cup is good news, although you don’t always know if he’s going to be thinking about fast cars, record companies and lifestyle magazines when he should be thinking about defending. Ferdinand’s presence might be able to inspire Wayne Rooney, who still looks out of sorts – although his circumstances are purely his own fault and I’ve got no sympathy for him at all.

Now it’s prediction time: we’ve got an 11 game winning streak going at Wembley (undefeated in the last fourteen), so it’s going to be tough for Montenegro. It sounds bleedin’ obvious, but the Montenegrins have done well away from home when they’ve stopped the opposition scoring but as we’ve scored an average of 2.9 goals per game at Wembley in recent games, we probably playing them at the right time. I can see them getting at least one goal though (we’ve not kept consecutive clean sheets at home for three years) but England ought to win this one.

If Vucinic scores, he’s promised to repeat his goal celebration that got him a booking last week: I think if I’d scored a goal against England I’d run around with my shorts on my head as well! I’m sure that the ITV commentators have been scraping the bottom of  their cliche barrels in order to come up with dreadful puns: my money’s on ‘that REALLY WAS pants defending from England!’

Or if it’s a tight game with a late England goal from Rooney: ‘He’s the man who broke the back of Montenegro!’

That’ll do.

Eight Wayne Rooney Themed Halloween Costumes

Got your attention, didn’t it!

To do list:
* Make a list of replacements for Capello
* Speculate on the latest sex scandals
* Write brief history of Montenegrin football
* Insert England squad for next game…I’ll do that first. So cut and pasted from theFA.com:

Goalkeepers: Ben Foster (Birmingham City), Robert Green (West Ham United), Joe Hart (Manchester City)

Defenders: Ashley Cole (Chelsea), Phil Jagielka (Everton), Glen Johnson (Liverpool), Rio Ferdinand (Manchester United), Joleon Lescott (Manchester City), John Terry (Chelsea), Stephen Warnock (Aston Villa)

Midfielders: Gareth Barry (Manchester City), Joe Cole (Liverpool), Steven Gerrard (Liverpool), Tom Huddlestone (Tottenham Hotspur), Adam Johnson (Manchester City), Aaron Lennon (Tottenham Hotspur), Jack Wilshere (Arsenal), Shaun Wright-Phillips (Manchester City), Ashley Young (Aston Villa)

Forwards: Darren Bent (Sunderland), Peter Crouch (Tottenham Hotspur), Kevin Davies (Bolton Wanderers), Wayne Rooney (Manchester United

Instant reactions:

Seven of the 24 players in the squad come from clubs in the bottom half of the Premiership, four of them come from clubs currently in the bottom three.

The only team in the Premiership with a worse defensive record than West Ham is Blackpool. David James has let in fewer goals per league game this season than Robert Green – and believe me, that’s saying something.

Based on the current Premiership goalscoring chart, Kevin Davies and Darren Bent should start.

Harry Redknapp is still the favourite to replace Fab as England manager, but Ian Holloway could be worth a punt at 16/1 with William Hill. Best priced ‘foreigner’ is Martin O’Neill at 10/1 with Victor Chandler, they’re also offering odds for Steve Coppell and Gary Neville – but strangely enough not Alf Ramsay, Walter Winterbottom, Joe Mercer or Cheryl Cole.

Back To Business

OK, two proper games coming up – unusually, our opening game with Bulgaria is being played on a Friday night, presumably because the England squad don’t want to miss MK Dons v Hartlepool in League 1 on Saturday lunchtime. Let’s start with the squad:

Goalkeepers: Scott Carson (West Brom), Ben Foster (Birmingham), Joe Hart (Manchester City).

Defenders: Gary Cahill (Bolton), Ashley Cole (Chelsea), Michael Dawson (Tottenham), Kieran Gibbs (Arsenal), Phil Jagielka (Everton), Glen Johnson (Liverpool), Joleon Lescott (Manchester City), Matthew Upson (West Ham)

Midfielders: Gareth Barry (Manchester City), Michael Carrick (Manchester United), Steven Gerrard (Liverpool), Adam Johnson (Manchester City), James Milner (Manchester City), Theo Walcott (Arsenal), Shaun Wright-Phillips (Manchester City), Ashley Young (Aston Villa)

Forwards: Darren Bent (Sunderland), Carlton Cole (West Ham), Peter Crouch (Tottenham), Jermain Defoe (Tottenham), Wayne Rooney (Manchester United).

* The goalkeeper situation for the next decade is basically Joe Hart and anyone who’s ever played goalkeeper before. Fab’s sudden realisation that Hart is the best keeper we’ve got is arguably six months too late and is a tacit admission that he made a mistake with his choices at the the World Cup. I’ll be amazed if either David James or Robert Green ever play for England again: Joe Hart could end up rivalling Peter Shilton in terms of talent and longevity.

* 16 players made the provisional 30 strong squad that was named before the World Cup; Darren Bent, Adam Johnson and Theo Walcott are back in contention after having missed the cut for the final 23 for South Africa. Personally I thought that either Johnson or Walcott should have gone to the World Cup and that Darren Bent didn’t really get a realistic chance to impress in the friendly against Japan – in retrospect, a game where the alarm bells really should have started ringing very loudly indeed.

* Of the players that didn’t decide to either retire or declare their permanent ineligibility after the World Cup, Joe Cole, Robert Green, Ledley King and Steven Warnock were all in the final World Cup squad but are missing this time. John Terry, Frank Lampard, Rio Ferdinand (again) and Bobby Zamora are all missing for injury reasons, although rumours that Lampard is having psychological treatment aimed at persuading him never to take a penalty again are unfounded. Cole (J) is going to find it hard going to get back into the squad – his decision to move to a Liverpool team that already looks even more lacklustre than last season may have an adverse affect on his England chances.

* Why is anyone from West Ham still involved in the England team? Bottom of the Premiership already having scored one goal in three games and with a goal difference of -9. If Matt Upson and Carlton Cole were truly international standard players then they would have at least been linked to moves to Manchester City. The Hammers are worse than Wigan right now; perhaps Fab should give Chris Kirkland and Victor Moses a look before he announces the next squad.

Our record at home against Bulgaria is OK: they’ve never beaten us (home or away) but in our four games with them at Wembley we’ve won two. Our last win came in March 1996 – when Les Ferdinand scored the only goal – but the last time we played them competitively was in a 0-0 draw in October 1998 in a Euro 2000 qualifer.

I’ll take a look at Bulgaria later in the week but for those of you that can’t wait to find out some interesting facts about them, neither that bloke who looks like a werewolf or Dimitar Berbatov play for them any longer.

That bloke who looks like a werewolf.

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Are You Hungary For More?

Excuse the inevitable pun…the good news is that we’re still pretty formidable at home: nine straight wins, unbeaten since that game against Croatia in November 2007 and playing a country that hasn’t beaten us since the 1962 World Cup and hasn’t beaten us in England since that game in November 1953.

The bad news? This is a game we should win. Just like the game against Algeria during the World Cup, although to be fair to the Algerians the current FIFA rankings have the Desert Foxes thirty places above the current crop of slightly less than magical Magyars, but after this summer’s dismal failure anything might happen.

Having said that, the contrite atmosphere that has permeated the press conferences given by Fabio Capello and Steven Gerrard this week have been encouraging yet slightly depressing. Admitting that there were various problems with both the preparation and execution of the World Cup campaign is refreshing, but the comments that were coming from the England camp before the World Cup contradicted those statements. Attempting to put those things right in one game won’t work and – like most fans – I’ll be extremely wary if the expected romp through the Euro 2012 qualification group materialises. It shouldn’t be forgotten that half of the World Cup semi finalists had to qualify via the playoffs.

Then there are the withdrawals. I’ve already commented on Robinson and Brown and to some extent I sympathise with their points of view, but although it’s encouraging to see that Capello has called up Scott Loach and Frankie Fielding from the Under 21 squad as replacements, he didn’t really have much choice in the matter and I seriously doubt that they’ll get any playing time tomorrow.

Spare a thought for Hungary though. Despite their 1954 squad being widely acknowledged as one of the best teams never to have won the World Cup, they haven’t qualified for a major tournament since 1986, although the under 20s finished third in the 2009 World Cup for that age group. That team was coached by Sandor Egervari, who replaced Erwin Koeman as senior team manager at the end of July. Although there are several well known names amongst the Hungarians – four of the squad play in England and keeper Gabor Kiraly played for Crystal Palace, Aston Villa and Burnley – the Hungarian league isn’t particularly good and it’s significant that only five of the twenty man squad play for domestic clubs. Kiraly is the most capped player in the current squad and any goals will come from either Zoltan Gera of Fulham or Tamas Priskin, who scored at the weekend for Ipswich Town.

Prediction: England to win and keep a clean sheet. Immediate post-match reaction tomorrow but it won’t be either an instant classic or have the same long term implications this game did, although after this summer’s shambles it could be argued we still haven’t learned the lessons from that foggy Wednesday afternoon in November 1953…

Algeria Preview

You often hear pundits claiming that there’s no such thing as an easy game in the World Cup anymore: while they’re probably correct, it’s difficult to contradict the argument that England’s game with Algeria tomorrow night is potentially our easiest game in Group C.

The Algerians do not travel well; the Desert Foxes also have a very poor recent record against European opposition. As well as losing 1-0 to Slovenia last weekend, they have also recently suffered 3-0 defeats to both Ireland and Serbia. Algeria have won three away games in the past year: 2-0 against the mighty Zambia during World Cup qualification, and wins over Mali and Ivory Coast in the African Nations Cup earlier this year. Algeria were lucky to win the latter: they trailed 2-1 going into stoppage time.

Only three of their squad of 23 play in Algeria including two of the three keepers, one of whom (Faouzi Chaouchi) was to blame for the goal the Slovenians scored on Sunday. The rest of the squad play in Europe and it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that six of them play in France. Closer to home, defender Nadir Belhadj and midfielder Adlene Guedioura play for Portsmouth and Wolves respectively; Madjid Bougherra is a Rangers player, which might explain why he’s not exactly been backwards in coming forwards today.

Compounding their poor record in front of goal, they’ll be without striker Abdelkader Ghezzal, who was sent off for two stupid yellow cards in their first game. Veteran striker Rafik Saifi (who plays in the French 2nd division
for Istres) or the relatively inexperienced Rafik Djebbour of AEK Athens are the only other options at striker: Saifi is the only player in the entire squad who has scored more than ten goals at international level.

If you fancy a punt, it’s possible that we could keep a clean sheet (only Brazil in 1970 and Romania in 1998 have scored against us in corresponding group games since 1966), but in case you hadn’t noticed we’ve got a few issues of our own. Apart from the inclusion of Gareth Barry, the team for tomorrow is still a mystery and – perhaps more worryingly – Stevie G’s goal against the USA last Saturday was the first time an England player had scored in an ‘away’ game since Jermain Defoe scored twice against the Dutch before the start of last season: we don’t have any Japanese defenders up our sleeve for this game. Wayne Rooney and Emile Heskey haven’t scored in an away game since the 4-0 win over Kazakhstan just over a year ago – although I agree with John Motson that Rooney is due a goal for England.

It’s possible that there won’t be that many goals in this game: one of the less appealing scenarios (other than an Algeria win or another draw) would be something similar to the win over Trinidad & Tobago in the last World Cup. That game was going nowhere until two late goals settled it. The last time we failed to score in the second group game was in 1990 (a dreadful goalless draw with the Dutch) and we haven’t scored three since beating Argentina in 1962.

For anoraks and train spotters, here’s the list of the second group games England have played in:

England 0-1 USA (1)
England 2-0 Switzerland (2)
England 0-0 Brazil (0)
England 3-1 Argentina (4)
England 2-0 Mexico (2)
England 0-1 Brazil (1)
England 2-0 CSSR (2)
England 0-0 Morocco (0)
England 0-0 Netherlands (0)
England 1-2 Romania (3)
England 1-0 Argentina (1)
England 2-0 Trinidad (2)
P12 w6 D3 L3 F13 A5

1950: England 0-1 USA (yes, that game)

1954: England 2-0 Switzerland (we beat the hosts!)

1958: England 0-0 Brazil

1962: England 3-1 Argentina

1966: England 2-0 Mexico (Bobby Charlton scores from just outside Wembley station)

1970: England 0-1 Brazil (the Gordon Banks save, the Bobby Moore tackle and a thin…well, thin-ish…Francis Lee)

1982: England 2-0 Czechoslovakia

1986: England 0-0 Morocco (Ray Wilkins gets sent off)

1990: England 0-0 Netherlands

1998: England 1-2 Romania

2002: England 1-0 Argentina (the Beckham penalty)

2006: England 2-0 Trinidad & Tobago

Overall: P12 w6 D3 L3 F13 A5 (so that’s less than a goal a game)

11 Lions expects (and really, really wants!) an England win, although it may not be the landslide that some fans seem to be expecting. Having said that, a convincing win would be just what the doctor ordered and would set us up nicely for the last group game next Wednesday.

We’ll have some kind of reaction either late tomorrow night or on Saturday morning, although after a hellish work week Saturday lunchtime might be a more realistic option. Enjoy the game…and spare a thought for the French.

Only joking!