Premiership Preview: The Clocks Go BACK

After a hectic weekend in European competition which didn’t go particularly well for some of the Premiership teams, we’re back to the bread and butter (or should that be the champagne and caviar) stuff. No doubt about this weekend’s biggest game: Liverpool v Manchester United on Sunday. Anyone tuning in to Sky Sports on Sunday afternoon wanting to watch some sort of epoch defining clash of the titans between Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney might be disappointed though: Gerrard limped off during Liverpool’s home defeat in the Champions League against Lyonand Rooney didn’t feature at all in United’s win in Moscow over CSKA.

There are five other games featuring multiple England stars: no surprise that all of them apart from Manchester City v Fulham are being televised. Coverage kicks off on Saturday lunchtime when Aston Villa travel to Wolves (12.45pm GMT Sky Sports 1), then ESPN has Chelsea v Blackburn at 5.30pm. On Sunday Liverpool/Man U is followed by West Ham v Arsenal but make sure you check the kick off times on Sunday as the clocks go back one hour in Britain.

That’s about it for this week, apart from a couple of updates: it’s probably fair to say that what Diego Maradona said to the press after the victory in Montevideo was pretty rude for live TV and probably sounded worse in vernacular Spanish than it did in translation. It’s also looking extremely likely that David Beckham will rejoin Milan after the MLS season finishes: Brian Glanville  (the elder statesman of British football writers) has some interesting things to say about Beckham’s position in the England team in November’s issue of World Soccer.

Thanks for reading, enjoy your weekend…and remember to re-set anything that tells you what time it is!

Quick Look Forward To Wednesday

Hello again, it’s a brief one this evening but we’ll have another couple of posts before the weekend with more news from the final round of qualifiers and a Premiership preview.

Our unbeaten run went out of the window at the weekend, but we’re not reading too much into it: if Rio Ferdinand is having a ‘blip’ we’d rather he had it now than next June and imagine how disappointing it would have been if we’d been unbeaten until the first game of the tournament proper.

Saturday was an exciting day, we watched bits of several games and saw both Italy and Argentina snatch last minute goals. It was heartbreak for Ireland who blew their chances of automatic qualification about a minute after the same chances looked so good against the World Champions; Argentina almost made a complete mess of things by letting a terrible Peru side back into their game (played in the middle of rainstorm in a windlashed Buenos Aires) in injury time and then won it the death. Mr. Maradona’s celebration of Martin Palermo’s winner is worth watching if you can find it on Youtube. Next time Manchester United score a ‘late’ winner in a rainstorm I’d love to see Fergie do what Diego did.

Anyway, we now have several more confirmed qualifiers but tomorrow night we’ll have an even more complete picture. Things to look out for in the UEFA region:

* After all the hysteria about Portugal not qualifying, they will probably make the playoffs. Their last game is against Malta. At home. Sweden play Albania, which is no longer a guaranteed three points.

* In Group 2, everything is still wide open and Greece may end up qualifying automatically. Switzerland have fellow contenders Israel at home and the Greeks have to beat Luxembourg.

* Northern Ireland have a very tough task in the Czech Republic, especially as the Czechs also have to win to stand a chance of qualification. It doesn’t help either of them that Slovenia and Slovakia have home games, against Poland and San Marino respectively; look out for the commentators on Northern Ireland’s game using the

* Croatia should probably reach the playoffs with a win over Kazakhstan, but Ukraine face Andorra in arguably the easier game.

Argentina’s win over Peru has made life a lot easier for them, but with Chile qualifying on Saturday night with a win in Colombia, the game between Uruguay and Argentina tomorrow is still absolutely crucial.

So there’s still a lot to look forward to and a lot to play for as the qualifiers sort themselves out: we’ll be issuing updates to the site via our Twitter account until about 11:00pm GMT on Wednesday.

Thanks for reading!

Evening All!

Firstly, apologies that we’ve missed a couple of weeks on the Premiership front due to obligations elsewhere but as England have their last qualifying games for the 2010 World Cup coming up and it would be missing the point of the entire blog for to ignore them, we’re back for a two part preview of the qualifiers that are taking place all over the world over the next week or so.

Our squad for the games v Ukraine and Belarus and was announced after the last round of Premiership games and – as widely expected – some of the so-called ‘fringe’ players were called up. Rather than just posting a list, we’ll go through the changes position by position.

Robert Green retains his place amongst the keepers, but is joined by David James of Portsmouth and Manchester City’s Joe Hart, who is currently on loan at Birmingham City. Paul Robinson withdrew from the squad with a hip injury, but for want of a better expression, Ben Foster of Manchester United has been dropped. His form has been pretty erratic this season to say the least.

Better news for another United player as Rio Ferdinand has returned to the squad after injury but Joleon Lescott was forced to withdraw with a hip injury and Bolton’s Gary Cahill has been called up once again. We’re not in the business of trying to second guess Fabio Capello here, but it would be a really good idea to give Cahill an opportunity in either or both of the forthcoming games.

In midfield Ashley Young and Theo Walcott have not been selected and up front Gabriel Agbonglahor of Aston Villa replaces Jermain Defoe, who is currently suffering from what sounds like a really painful hand injury. We’ll try to bring you the starting line up when it’s announced.

There are also a couple of bits of controversy to report on, one short term and rather annoying, the one long term and potentially more damaging.

Actually watching the game against Ukraine on Saturday might be problematic as it’s being offered on a subscription basis. From what we’ve read and heard this issue was caused by the collapse of Setanta earlier this year – as it’s an away game, the broadcasting rights belong to the host nation and so any decision regarding those rights is solely that of the Ukrainian FA. On the one hand, it’s a massive inconvenience for England fans and the FA ought to do everything in their power to prevent this situation from happening again, but on the other hand over the past couple of years it’s been possible to watch both baseball and American football on the internet. With the advent of Sky Player, Sky Sports is now available on the web; without wanting to sound like we’re encouraging anyone to give more cash to Rupert Murdoch, live sport online is definitely the way forward, although we think it’s better as an alternative – rather than the only – option. We’re currently unaware of any plans to stream games next year, but it’s something that we’ll investigate.

Lastly, CONCACAF president Austin ‘Jack’ Warner decided to make some less than positive comments about the 2018 bid to bring the World Cup Finals to England; to be honest…well, let’s leave it at that. It goes without saying that we support the bid and that if the real Jack Warner (the one who played PC George Dixon in the classic BBC police drama ‘Dixon Of Dock Green’) was still alive, we’re pretty sure he would support it as well.

Next post will either be tomorrow or early Saturday as we’ll outline some of the scenarios facing some of our traditional international rivals, in particular what may turn out to be the final days of one Diego Armando Maradona as manager of Argentina…

Thanks for reading!

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.

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:

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.

Andorra Preview

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 Lima 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 B whereas the rest of the Andorran squad play for minor Spanish clubs or in the eight team Andorran league.

On the other hand, we ‘ve only lost two home World Cup qualifiers 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 apparently if Arsene Wenger had his way he wouldn’t even be playing for them) 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 . Can’t guarantee what time coverage will start and as I’ll be watching the British Lions latest tour game, I’ve got a ‘Big Brother’ issue with my other half and if England score an early goal it might turn into a discussion about 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 Sentanta goes down the tubes…sorry, couldn’t resist that one.

Enjoy the game!

Kazakhstan Preview

Despite an injury list that would be extremely worrying if the situation was repeated in South Africa next year, we’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: it’s pretty safe to say that if Ukraine lose, they’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 – apart from a 3-0 win over Andorra last August they’ve lost every single one of their other home qualifiers, most recently a 5-1 defeat by Belarus in April. They’re currently ranked 137th in the world and 47th(out of 53) in Europe – just worse than Luxembourg – so they’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 isn’t the capital city but is the largest city in the country), which apparently means ‘full of apples’. The players to watch out for in a squad without a great deal of international experience 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 tomorrow’s game hasn’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. I’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 West Brom next 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 I’d be surprised if Kazakhstan don’t score.