As a blogger, I love the international break – it’s a time to relax, blow off some steam and recharge your batteries for the next cycle of league game upon league game. It helps you step back and get some perspective on the league (Bolton are still in the crapper though, regardless of how you try to spin it positive) and it also gives space to the odd crazy rumor (Kaka to the Premier League?).
On the other hand, focusing on international football is fun on it’s own – the Euro 2008 qualifiers are in the final stretch and many important games will be played out over the course of the next week or so.
Less ranting, more substance. Let’s look at England’s double-header, possible lineups and what the future holds for England. But first, an announcement.
England vs Estonia and Russia vs England – Live Blogging on Soccerlens
It’s tentative (which means you should confirm it on the day of the game), but Franky from the other Manchester United blog has graciously volunteered to live blog both England games. I for one will be watching the reporting closely (if I don’t catch the games myself) and fingers crossed that the server can hold up to the hordes of England fans frantically refreshing the page to see if Michael Owen has scored or if Paul Robinson has let another goal in.
You can catch the live blogs here:
Nothing there now, obviously, but tune in on Saturday and Wednesday respectively for some frantic goal-mouth (and astroturf, as the case will be in Moscow) action.
England vs Estonia
An easy as hell game – at Nou Camp England struggled in the first half but were clearly superior at the end of the day, and with the injuries, returning players and yello cards, you’d hope that Steve Macca (the man with the supremely annoying fake grin) will rest his key players – you know, like Terry and Owen, and Gerrard.
Ideally, the lineup for the Estonia game would look like this:
Phil Neville, Campbell, Lescott, Nickey Shorey
Lennon, Barry, Bentley, Downing
with Owen, Lampard and Joe Cole getting some sub action.
Hardly anything with Macca is ideal, so expect to see a first XI. Rio, Terry, A Cole are all one booking away from a suspension and this is as easy a game as England will ever get to blood the youngsters – not sure about Neville playing at right-back though, hopefully Macca can draft in someone else from England to fill in.
Owen and Lampard are returning from injury, so they should be kept fresh for the Russia game, and Gerrard deserves the rest anyway.
Predictions? A couple of yellows for England’s finest and a glut of goals that will hype us to the hilt before the crunch game against Russia.
Russia vs England
A full preview will follow on Monday once we have the results from the Estonia game, but here’s what we know:
– Astroturf and the weather will make it tough for England, but it’s more psychological than anything else. Luckily, mental fortitude is something that England have in abundance…errr, right.
– Terry, Owen, Rio, Gerrard, SWP, Richards, Ashley Cole, Lampard – we need these guys fit and available for that game, if it means resting a few them, so be it. I’d rather have Campbell and Lescott start for England than risk a card or injury to our first-choice back four. Also, we need Rooney fit as well, but he needs match practice in England colours so he has to play.
– Someone please play Crouch against Estonia so we have a better idea of how he can play against Russia.
– England will find it much harder in Moscow than they did at Wembley, and that’s only because at Wembley, the Russian defenders didn’t mark Owen that well and thus whenever the high balls got knocked down to him, he had ample space to control and shoot. Hiddink is a smart coach so you’d expect him to have his players stick to Owen like super-glue.
Group E Standings
The top four have all played 9 games, with 3 to go.
Croatia’s remaining fixtures: Israel (home), Macedonia (away), England (away)
England’s remaining fixtures: Estonia (home), Russia (away), Croatia (home)
Russia’s remaining fixtures: England (home), Israel (away), Andorra (away)
Israel’s remaining fixtures: Croatia (away), Russia (home), Macedonia (home)
Croatia have two easy games and a win in even 1 game will put them through, although they’re not the sort of side to let up and England will have their hands full at Wembley.
England can lose to Russia and still qualify as long as Russia drop points to Israel and England can beat Croatia. A point at least at Moscow is must, although knowing Macca it would a be a miracle indeed if we won.
Russia’s game against Israel will be key to their qualification chances – Israel have a great record at home and Russia, while an aggressive attacking side, are not as penetrative as Croatia or England and will have a tough time against a team playing for pride (lose to Croatia and Israel’s chances are as good as over).
Israel are more or less out of contention unless they can beat Croatia away, which is a tough ask. I don’t see Israel going through, but they should give Russia a good scare.
Group E Predictions
Croatia 29 (win the first 2, lose to England)
England 27 (draw to Russia, win the other two)
Russia 23 (draw to England and Israel, win against Andorra)
Israel 21 (lose to Croatia, beat Macedonia, draw with Russia)
The England-Russia game and the Israel-Russia game will pretty much decide the group, although I can see England going into the Croatia game needing to win to qualify.
Euro 2008 Standings
Euro 2008 Fixtures
Your comments on team selections and your predictions are welcome; more on the live blogs on Saturday morning.