A Big Day Around The World

By the end of the weekend, we’ll probably have a much better idea of who will joining the countries who have already qualified for South Africa, who will be in the play offs and which (if any) of the major footballing powers will be watching England on TV. Here’s a quick guide to the various scenarios that will be played out around the world today:


Group 1: wide open. Denmark have a three point lead at the time of writing this, but they play second place Sweden this evening; Portugal
play Hungary so this situation is very fluid could all change by tomorrow morning.

Group 2: See Group 1. Leaders Switzerland have an easy looking game in Luxembourg, but the key game today is probably Greece v Latvia. If that finishes in a draw and Israel beat bottom place Moldova then there’s a three way tie for second place going into Wednesday’s games.

Group 3: Slovakia have a five point lead, if they draw today they go through but their game is against second place Slovenia, who will be desperate to hang on for a point. Northern Ireland don’t have
a game today but will be keeping a close eye on the Czech Republic v Poland game.

Group 4: either Germany or Russia, they play each other today in Moscow. In an ideal world this one would be the one I’d be watching.

Group 5: Spain are already through, so this is a race for second between Bosnia & Turkey. Bosnia – away in Estonia –  have a four point advantage going into the last two games; Turkey have a tricky looking game in Belgium.

Group 6: Croatia look likely to go to the Play offs as Ukraine must beat England to stand any chance of coming second

Group 7: Serbia are guaranteed a play off place and will win the group if they beat Romania; France could still theoretically win the group,
they’ve got the Faroe Islands this evening in one of those games that France will probably win 1-0 with a goal in the tenth minute of injury time!

Group 8: Italy are already guaranteed a play off place, so Ireland need a
win to stand any chance of autoqualification. If Ireland lose in Dublin and Bulgaria beat Cyprusthen the battle for second place would go to Wednesday night. Breaking news yesterday was Fabio Cannavaro failing a drugs test having taken some kind of cortisone shot for a bee sting; he’s travelled to Dublin with the Italian squad but won’t be allowed to play tonight.


Two automatic places and a play off place left. Chile and Ecuador are currently in the automatic places with Argentina in the play off spot. That’s the simple part: Chile should be able to tie up one of the automatic places although they may have to wait until next week (they play
in Colombia this evening), but there are only three points difference between Ecuador (currently fourth) and Colombia (currently eighth), which means that the Colombia/Chile and Ecuador/Uruguay games are likely to have a bigger impact on the remaining automatic places than Argentina v Peru, which is a game that Argentina must (and probably will) win.

Outside Europe and South America…

The Ivory Coast can qualify with a win in Malawi …the first leg of Bahrain/New Zealand qualifier takes place today…if El Salvador beat Mexico tonight and the United States win in Honduras tomorrow morning, the USA will qualify.

In case you’re having trouble keeping track of the important stuff, here’s the timeline we’ll be following so we can attempt (and ‘attempt’ is a very important concept!) to bring you updates on Twitter – all times GMT:

13:00 Malawi v Ivory Coast
15:45 Switzerland v Luxembourg
16:00 Russia v Germany
17:00 Estonia v Bosnia & Herzegovina
17:15 Ukraine v England
18:00 Bulgaria v Cyprus
19:00 Denmark v Sweden
19:30 Serbia v Romania
19:45 Belgium v Turkey
20:00 Israel v Moldova, France v Faroe Islands, Ireland v Italy
20:45 Portugal v Hungary
23:00 Colombia v Chile, Ecuador v Uruguay, Argentina v Brazil, El Salvador v Mexico

It’s a shame that not everyone will be able to watch our game today, but it’s a chance to appreciate our early qualification, to enjoy an exciting day of international football and to look forward to the prospect of South Africa 2010.

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!

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.