Article by Chris Williams
England kick off their World Cup 2010 qualifying campaign with a double away header against minnows Andorra and Croatia, the team that eliminated them from qualifying for the 2008 European championship.
With Fabio Capello finally choosing John Terry as his permanent captain just before the unconvincing performance against Czech Republic in a friendly at Wembley last month, all England supporters will now be focusing on the performance the England team give in Capello’s first competitive game since taking over from Steve McClaren’s doomed tenure.
Football spread betters who predicted a 2-2 draw might have been happy but the English team were booed off the field against the Czechs as it was only an injury time equaliser from substitute Joe Cole which saved Capello the embarrassment of losing at home in a less-than-full stadium.
With England failing again to perform to a demanding public and the rumours of in-fighting in the FA with Chief Executive Brian Barwick leaving his post on the 31st December, the England footballers really need to produce two solid performances in the upcoming double header.
Andorra and Croatia were both in England’s European Championship qualifying group so Capello’s players should know both teams well.
However, fans placing football spread bets on a high score against Andorra in the opening game might have to look back to the last fixture in March 2007 in the Olimpico de Montjuic in Barcelona as England initially struggled, going in 0-0 at half time before finishing up 3-0 winners, with goals from Steven Gerrard (2) and debut boy David Nugent.
The game against Andorra last year followed on from a goalless draw in Israel the week before and it was during this period that the foundations of McClaren’s reign started to crumble.
Frank Lampard was missing due to an injured wrist so Gerrard was partnered by Owen Hargreaves in central midfield. However, the Andorran’s defended well and it wasn’t until the 54th minute when Gerrard ran on to a Wayne Rooney lay-off and smashed a trademark volley into the corner of the net.
This finally settled England and Gerrard doubled their lead in the 77th minute when he played a one-two with sub Jermain Defoe and beat the ‘keeper from the left-hand side of the area. Substitute David Nugent put a bit of respectability on the scoreline when he scored on his debut in the last minute, after some good work by Defoe.
England were far better in the home game against Andorra in Old Trafford in September 2006 when they won 5-0. Like Capello, Andorra were the opponents for McClaren’s first competitive game and the players didn’t disappoint with goals from Gerrard and two each from current Portsmouth strike partnership, Defoe and Peter Crouch.
Three points will be good enough for Capello but for the English supporters, a convincing win is also required against Andorra as the team then head to Zagreb on a revenge mission with Croatia.
Slaven Bilic’s Croatian team took six points off England in the European Championships Qualifying campaign, a 2-0 victory in Croatia and a 3-2 victory in Wembley which meant England spent the summer watching the tournament instead of being in Austria and Switzerland.
When they last met in the Maksimir Stadium in Zagreb, goals from Arsenal’s Eduardo and a farcical Gary Neville own goal inflicted Steve McClaren with his first competitive defeat, something Capello will be trying to avoid.
McClaren’s England were trying to be the first side in 12 years to beat Croatia at home in a competitive game, and now Capello will try and do the same on the 10th September. But both Capello and his players will need to look at the performance that night in October 2006.
Goalkeeper Paul Robinson will forever be haunted by his infamous mis-kick which allowed Gary Neville’s back pass to roll slowly into the net to make it 2-0 to Croatia but many people forget that Robinson made a number of superb saves to keep England in the game as Croatia dominated.
It’s a little known fact that Robinson was trying to match Gordon Banks’ record of seven clean sheets in a row.
However, England had limited chances in a 3-5-2 formation and continued pressure from Slavin Bilic’s side eventually resulted in Eduardo scoring with a looping header in the 60th minute.
Eight minute later, Croatia doubled their lead when a harmless looking backpass by Gary Neville bobbled just as Robinson tried to clear the ball and it bounced over his leg into an empty net, much to the amusement of the home supporters.
Leading up to the final qualifying game, against Croatia, England’s chances of qualifying looked dead and buried following their defeat to Russia in Moscow in October but Israel did them a massive favour by beating Russia to leave qualification back in their own hands.
England only needed a draw to qualify for the European Championships but on a terrible night of continuous rain, they found themselves 2-0 down after only 15 minutes to a Croatian side that had already qualified.
Scott Carson was brought in to replace the error prone Robinson in goals but he made the worst possible start on his competitive debut when Niko Kranjcar’s shot squirmed under his arms in the wet conditions to put Croatia 1-0 up in the 8th minute.
It went from bad to worse when Eduardo played through Ivica Olic, who rounded Carson and placed the ball into the empty net seven minutes later.
2-0 down at half-time, McClaren brought on David Beckham and Defoe for the second half and the former captain was one of only a few England players who performed to his potential.
Defoe won a penalty in the 56th minute when Josip Simunic was adjudged to have pulled his jersey in the box by referee Peter Frojdfeldt. England have been unlucky with penalty kicks but Lampard stepped up and held his nerve to give England a lifeline.
Even though they had already qualified, Croatia were determined to win and had a good few chances to restore their two goal lead but Carson pulled off a number of fine saves.
His efforts were rewarded in the 65th minute when Beckham sent over a trademark cross to Crouch, who controlled excellently with his chest before firing home.
With that scoreline England would have qualified but with 13 minutes to go, Croatian substitute Mladen Petric drilled home a 25 yard shot to kill off Englands hopes…and with it Steve McClaren’s short reign as England boss.
So, plenty of lessons to be learnt for Capello and England, will they learn them before the double header though?
About the Author
Chris Williams is a sports activist and loves writing about various sports related updates. Football Spread Betting