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 Pekovi 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 Joveti and Vuini 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 Joveti and Vuini 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 Vuini proved his finishing with a scrappy volley inside the penalty box. One possible area for English concern is when Joveti 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.

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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Communication Breakdown

by on October 9, 2012
in He Did WHAT?

I’m trying to think of how far back the record of PR disasters surrounding England players, managers and the FA actually goes: it’s a long way and might even start as far back as the Alf Ramsay era. Ramsey was famous for his curt manner with the press and although we’re separated by five decades and an almost unimaginable leap in technology, I’m almost certain that to some extent the anti-England agenda that occasionally manifests itself in the mainstream press dates from that time.

In the last week, we’ve seen what can happen when both managers and players attempt to communicate information and opinions in an informal atmosphere. Although Roy Hodgson was giving an honest answer to a reasonable question about Rio Ferdinand’s international future when he took a tube train to the Emirates to watch Arsenal play Olympiakos in the Champions League, it’s fair to say that either a political answer or keeping schtum altogether would’ve been better options. I happen to agree with him: I think this might be the last time Ferdinand gets mentioned  in this blog as a player. Rio Ferdinand is too old and unfit to play for England but could make a decent coach somewhere along the line.

On the other hand, exactly what Ashley Cole was hoping to achieve when he tweeted about the FA in the wake of the John Terry case is beyond me. At first I thought his ‘foul mouth rant’ was a joke: but then I saw the ‘verified’ symbol next to his handle. In a way, referring to the FA as ‘a bunch of twats’ is a simple case of it takes one to know several. Having been ‘encouraged’  to be a bit more media friendly in the summer and being only two caps short of a century of international appearances, you’d have thought that Cole would’ve been smart enough to realise that keeping quiet would’ve been the best option under the circumstances, especially as there are still questions about the captaincy going forward.

However, apart from possibly in the context of wearing expensive clothes, the words ‘Ashley Cole’ and ‘smart’ seem never to be destined to be used in the same sentence again. I wrote what I thought of John Terry here and I’ve got no problem with including Ashley Cole in the description of some contemporary football players in the fourth paragraph.

I’m pleased that the FA seem to have indicated that Cole won’t play against San Marino at the weekend, but that’s not really a punishment. He’s just lucky he wasn’t around in when Ramsay was boss.

He wouldn’t have played for England again.

I’ll be back later in the week when I’ll attempt to concentrate on the two forthcoming games. But it’s only Tuesday afternoon: plenty of time for tweeting.

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.

Andorra Preview

by on June 9, 2009
in World Cup 2010

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 http://twitter.com/11lions . 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!

World Cup Qualifier England v Ukraine

by on March 28, 2009
in World Cup 2010

England resume their world cup qualifying campaign on April 1st against Ukraine in brand new shirts. Apart from a wild guess that the new home shirt will be mostly white and the change shirt will be mostly red, that’s a topic for another day, so let’s take a quick look at the situation in Group Six.

With a five point lead over both Croatia (who we’ve already beaten) and Ukraine (in third at present having only played three games), there’s a strong possibility England could be the first European team to qualify for South Africa 2010 and despite the recent defeat in Spain I can’t see any reason to disagree. Yet it’s always worth remembering that there are no medals for being the first to qualify

We’ve got a good record against Ukraine (we’ve won both previous games without conceding a goal but we haven’t played them for almost five years), but having said that, they’re currently on a seven game unbeaten run, they’re pretty tight defensively and they’ve got plenty of decent players – some of whom you may have heard of.

The England squad named for this weekend’s friendly against Slovakia and the qualifier next week contained a couple of mild surprises, one of which seems to have backfired. The only new name in the squad is Leighton Banes of Everton, who I would imagine is seen as a potential squad player for next summer; although there’s no doubt that Ledley King is an international quality player he has a debilitating injury that means he can’t train normally from game to game and it’s not totally clear why Fabio Capello bought him into the squad. On Tuesday afternoon it was announced that King had left camp and was considering his international future, which would be a real shame.

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England Win or Lose?
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England v Slovakia, Saturday March 28th 4pm GMT on Setanta Sports 1
England v Ukraine, Wednesday April 1st 8pm GMT on ITV1