Despite an injury list that would be extremely worrying ifÂ the situation was repeatedÂ in South Africa next year, weâ€™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: itâ€™s pretty safe to say that if Ukraine lose, theyâ€™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 â€“ apart from a 3-0 win over Andorra last August theyâ€™ve lost every single one of their other home qualifiers, most recently a 5-1 defeat by Belarus in April. Theyâ€™re currently ranked 137th in the world and 47th(out of 53) in Europe – just worse than Luxembourg â€“ so theyâ€™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 isnâ€™t the capital city but is the largest city in the country), which apparently means â€˜full of applesâ€™. The players to watch out for in a squad without a great deal of international experienceÂ 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 tomorrowâ€™s game hasnâ€™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. Iâ€™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 WestÂ Brom nextÂ 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 Iâ€™d be surprised if Kazakhstan donâ€™t score.