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Thursday, September 29, 2005

Beckham gets better as Porto go down

Beckham's display last night was again excellent and he has found some new zest in the past couple of games. His crosses just rained in on Olympiakos that they had little to aid any aerial challenge, hence the curl that came round for Raul to head in. Though The Greek side had a nice, somewhat I believe fortunate, spin on Kafes' shot (seemed as if he was aiming to curl round Casillas' right), Beckham came once again to bail out Real with yet another delivery that was finished second time round by Saldado. Beckham clearly should feature for England on the right side. Real should have wrapped up the game some three goals before. New recruit Sergio Ramos was again dismissed in injury time, this time for violent conduct in reaction to a challenge.

Porto's shock defeat to Artmedia was another match that went against expectation, the home side being 2-0 up as well. Quaresma curled superbly with the outside of his right boot for Lucho Gonzalez, Diego finished a nice run for a second and then it all came tumbling down as Artmedia played and Porto stopped. Petras got one back before half time with neat foot control, and then in the second half a counter-attack from a Porto corner found Kozak on the left and he too showed neat foot work to go round Baia and score. Porto were asleep at the back when defending a Kozak free-kick, allowing Borbely to steal ahead of Ricardo Costa to touch the winner.

I felt that Inter were rightly denied a goal from the spot, Waterreus touched the ball and it took little for Julio Cruz, in for the rested Adriano, to go down, similar to Reyes against Ajax. Inter made little of their home advantage and the free-kick was very unlucky for Rangers.

Fenerbahce enjoyed a good game against PSV, who seemed a shadow of the side last season in the semi-finals. Then, they held up AC Milan to the end. Last night they were comprehensively picked apart. Vennegoor of Hesselink handballed ridiculously, Alex stepped up well for the penalty, Gomes didnt even move literally until the ball was kicked. In the second half Vennegoor of Hesselink committed football suicide by pulling on Selcuk, and was duly sent off. One Fenerbahce player reminded the ref it was a second booking, and another applauded the sending off, unprofessional in my opinion. The ref is administering the law, not judge, jury, and executioner on a wanted felon. Anelka then explioted space on the left and fed Alex for his second, such a simple head down that surprised me Gomes didnt stop. Appiah wrapping up PSV's dismal night with a third.


Liverpool v Chelsea - the Hand of God II

Mexico City, Mexico, the Estadio Azteca stadium, 22nd June 1986. The venue held the quarter-final of the World Cup competition between Argentina v England. Jorge Valdano played a return pass to the advancing Diego Maradona, Steve Hodge aimed to clear but the ball spun into the air, 6ft plus Peter Shilton came out to punch it and was clear favourite to do so over a 5ft 6in Maradona, yet when Maradona jumped up his left hand was clearly in the air level with his head, formed a fist and made contact with the ball, the ball dropped and rolled into the net, a goal was given. Astonishment was an understatement in describing the reaction of those who watched the game, much less the England players. Maradona went on to label the contact, 'The Hand of God' and revealed some years later in his autobiography that it was a deliberate handball, and this year stated it was in retaliation to the British triumph in the 1982 Falklands War.

Last night's venue was Anfield, Liverpool, between Liverpool and Chelsea, and something of a different kind of war hyped as expected by the media. Chelsea, unofficially or otherwise, aimed to exact revenge for being hard done-by last season in the same venue, same competition. Mourinho then claimed the best team lost. Last night, the best team didn't win, it drew instead, and their players were not dressed in blue and white. Mourinho stated the home side would normally be unhappy with a point but Liverpool would be after last night, and once again he was severely wrong. We were not happy with a point, why we came at Chelsea last night. We had the first 30 mins, waned after then until the half time whistle and then came at them again in the second half.

Chelsea had two chances in the first half, Frank Lampard's free-kick saved by Pepe Reina, and Arjen Robben cutting in off the right onto his left to follow with an effort which Reina tipped over. We had a penalty shout when Peter Crouch headed down into the box, Didier Drogba appeared to make contact on Sami Hyypia, he certainly made none on the ball. Ref Massimo De Santis made the dubious decision of a corner, adding more irony to the moment that had an attacker defending against a defender attacking.

In the second half, Luis Garcia emerged onto a bouncing ball quicker than Paulo Ferreira and the Portuguese defender held onto the Spaniard slightly to deter his run, a run which otherwise could have allowed Garcia to reach the ball before Petr Cech. But the main focus point was 5mins after, Steven Gerrard swung in a corner and Jamie Carragher rushed ahead of Richardo Carvalho to head towards goal, William Gallas clearly shown to move his arm towards the flight of the ball and blocked it away. Not even horses have hooves cast in such iron as that penalty claim, with the ref in an excellent position to see it, even at the speed of play. The Hand of God emerged with a sequel, 'The Hand of God II: The Arm of Bill'.

After that there was a coming together between Carragher and Hyypia 15mins from time which saw a loose ball roll for Damien Duff, but Reina came out to palm it away well in case the Irishman wanted to state he was fouled in the box. Then some five minutes after, Florent Sinama-Pongolle, on for Djibril Cisse, beat Lampard to the by-line and cut back, but it evaded any Liverpool player and was cleared, only to Xabi Alonso, who chest controlled and then aimed a volley, comfortably dealt with by Cech. Gerrard ended the bout with a free-kick over the goal.

Mourinho has been quoted in the media, a summary of which is that he wasn't ecstatic but hadn't lost so was content with the point, found the midfield was powerfully packed on both sides, aimed to win the game with the changes of Shaun Wright-Phillips and Hernan Crespo, and then aimed to level the "basketball" system we apparently have, with Robert Huth in injury time. Rafael Benitez stated before the game that Liverpool have two strong factors, their confidence and the fans, going into the game and neither disappointed Liverpool last night. Considering the reaction expected from Chelsea, it is they who are happy with the point while Liverpool were left to look back on three penalty claims, one of them crystal clear, denied. Statistics show that which Mourinho evidently failed to comprehend:

Liverpool ----- Chelsea
1 Shots on target 1
8 Shots off target 5
2 Blocked 1
6 Corners 3
18 Fouls 23
0 Offsides 2
1 Yellow Cards 4
72.2 Passing Success 64.9
30 Tackles 29
90 Tackles Success 79.3
54.2 Possession 45.8
56.5 Territorial Advantage 43.5

The game clearly was in our favour, though there was little between the two, especially with reference to the statistics. Unlike Mourinho, we will not dwell on what could have or should not have been, we move on. To Sunday.


Tuesday, September 27, 2005

United v Benfica - Ferguson's fight to keep his job begins in earnest

The boos ringing around Old Trafford on Saturday will no doubt have tore Ferguson up inside. He more than anyone knows that failure is no longer acceptable at Manchester United and already at this early stage in the season it seems as if United will again be fighting for a place at the top table rather than sitting at its head.

This is a club he has served for almost twenty years and he did not deserve the treatment he got against Blackburn. I was pleased to see that even his nemesis Arsene Wenger has expressed his shock at the fans reactions on Saturday. Having said that, it may be the wake up call or jolt in the arm that Ferguson needs.

What United need to do is go back to basics. United have been at their most devastating playing 4-4-2 and Ferguson needs to realise that in order to get United firing again they need to stop trying to fit players into a system they do not feel comfortable with and instead play a system built around the best players at his disposal. Square pegs do not fit in round holes, as the old adage goes.

Ferguson must see this - but he is a stubborn character. But Ferguson must not let stubborness rule his head otherwise his long reign at Old Trafford will come to a sad and damp end. Ferguson has rightly pointed to European nights as being special occasions for United and he must use tonight's platform to show that he still has the witt and tactical nous to get the best from his undoubtedly talented players against one of the all time European great club teams.

Ironically, because of Rooney's suspension and injuries to Keane and Saha, Ferguson has no choice but to play 4-3-3 against Benfica - but lets hope that the old square pegs round holes adage takes a night off tonight - for Ferguson's sake.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Four more years of Gilberto is a big deal

Today, Gilberto has signed a four year extension to his contract with Arsenal.

I wanted him to sign for ten more years- but I'm not complaining.

His absence for six months last season was decisive for our fortunes in both the Premiership and Europe. The reason being that while Pat and Francesc are more offensive than defensive in the central midfield department- Gilberto is more defensive than offensive.

Gilberto brings balance to the team. Within ten outfield players he balances the team by ensuring we have five primarily defensive players and five primarily offensive players. Without him the balance tilts to being overly offensive and therefore more vulnerable at the back. We scored plenty of goals last season without Gilberto- but also conceded too many and this proved to be our downfall. His six months absence really hurt.

Gilberto has many qualities. A fine interceptor, good in the air, good physical presence, good engine, a willingness to stride forward (which has a touch of the Thierry's about it), concise passer, good spatial awareness. This all adds up to Gilberto being a fundamental team-player and a perfect cog in the smooth attacking Arsenal machine.

Gilberto is also a fine representative of the Arsenal: no dirty tackles, no swearing, plays the game in the right spirit (not that I don't enjoy Lauren's no-nosense attitude when directed at particular opponents). And look at his celebration last week after scoring a towering header from a Reyes corner against Thun: he was screaming. Under the quiet persona he has huge passion. He knew that the team needed a lift after Pat's departure and a stuttering start- and he was delighted to be the man to do it.

On the day Pat left, I wrote on EFT that the Francesc/Gilberto partnership has excellent promise. Francesc is a good hard tackler in his own right, but his super-quality-potential lies more in his attacking dribbling and eye for a forward pass. For the next four years Francesc can fully concentrate on supporting the attack without fear of exposing the defence, safe in the knowledge that Gilberto is anchoring the central midfield.

World cup winner Gilberto has been an excellent purchase for the Arsenal since his signing from Atletico Minerio in July 2002. For all the strengths he brings to the team, it cannot be over-stated enough that four more years of Gilberto is a big deal for Arsenal.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

0-0 stalemate helps Chelsea all the more

Disappointing 0-0 draw at Anfield, our third so far. Plus side is we haven't conceded, the only team along with Chelsea in that position at the moment. Minus side is obviously not scoring at all, much less enough. One goal in four games is not Premiership title quality. One win in four games is not looking Premiership title quality. Rafael Benitez is looking to build a side that can strangle the game from the best of them that comes. We were defensive enough to quiet Utd but not attacking enough to threaten them into panic. At the end of the day, both sides didn't want to lose more than they wanted to win. We were aware of Utd's attacking prowess, their formation should business after Villarreal, 4-3-3 with Roy Keane returning miraculously, having been said to be out for weeks.

Benitez went on to say afterwards that the goals will come, and I believe they will. If Newcastle can go to Ewood Park and score 3 without the Rovers replying after their barren run, then Liverpool will start hitting the goals. We can do it in the Champions League, we will transfer it to the Premiership. At the least it wasn't a performance that allowed another easy shot to go in. Considering last season, we were not competitive enough against Utd. Benitez isn't looking to suddenly jump into 1st place after the CL win. He almost has the players he wants, now he wants the mentality needed to make them strong, to anyone.

I think the players will look on today and should consider resolving what and where and how, for this non-scoring run is to come to an end now. Perhaps that is down to the players chosen, the formation, or the players themselves. At the end of the day, they are in good positions to score, it is, as Michael Owen stated, a matter of time and when we score more than one, we will score more often. Stuart Pearce said after Man City's defeat to Bolton today's defeat that "someone will pick up the tab for us getting beaten, I am sure of that."

Someone will be getting a similar bill when Liverpool start hitting more goals. And I don't care who.


Friday, September 16, 2005

English referees would have ignored Rooney petulance

Kim Milton Nielsen is a strict referee. When I've seen him ref games he belongs to the no-nonsense school. You won’t see smiles and banter a'la Graeme Poll.

So when Wayne Rooney lost his cool on Wednesday against Villarreal and berated Kim Milton Nielsen with a sarcastic clap of the hands there was no surprise that the Danish ref would take exception. His eyes opened wide, incredulous at the disrespect, and then proceeded towards Rooney to give him another yellow card followed by the red.

This is good refereeing. Some footballers think they are the boss of the pitch just because they have a big salary and some endorsement deals. Rooney is a magnificent talent but he has no medals to his name and a lot of maturity to develop. It's right that Milton-Nielsen taught him some humility.

Last year in Spain, Rooney seriously lost his cool in an international friendly. He nearly caused serious injury to Casillas by pushing him into the fans enclosure. He then committed a reckless tackle and received his second yellow. What happened next was shameful- he tore off the black armband commemorating Emlyn Hughes. I can't believe he knew what he was doing at that instance, and I'm sure he regrets that act. Yet it underlines his disciplinary problem.

Then came the infamous foul-mouthed tirade against Graeme Poll at Highbury after receiving a booking. If Milton-Nielsen was on the end of that you can bet Rooney would have been sent off the pitch. But Poll stood there, took it on the chin with a smile, and let Rooney off the hook. From a football point of view it is always best to have 11 against 11. However, the spirit of the game was let down by Poll's leniency and Rooney was not taught a vital lesson. I've seen Rooney launch a similar full-on tirade against Dermot Gallacher and again no disciplinary action was taken.

I'm happy that Rooney's behaviour was not tolerated by Milton-Nielsen. Because of this decision I'm sure Rooney will be more circumspect in future. It highlighted to him that his insulting behaviour can let his team and the fans down. I hope English ref's remember this precedent.


Monday, September 12, 2005

England Ashes success truly puts football in the shade

Michael Vaughan, Marcus Trescothick, Andy Strauss, Ian Bell, Kevin Pieterson, Andy Flintoff, Geraint Jones, Ashley Giles, Matthew Hoggard, Steve Harmison, Simon Jones, Paul Collingwood, and Gary Pratt.

These guys have made my sporting summer by trading blow for blow and defeating the never-say-die world champion Aussies in the most enthralling series of matches I have ever seen in any sport. Pieterson's match-saving innings today has to be seen to be believed- smashing 158 with wickets falling around him. Gritty Giles gave great support down the order to hold the Aussies at bay.

Since the second test England have played out of their skins and produced consistently epic sporting drama that I can't envisage any English national side repeating anytime soon. For their part in the piece, the Aussies deserve congratulations too.

Every crucial Aussie wicket taken this summer felt like a match-winning goal. And every crucial run scored- especially Freddies second innings at Edgbaston and the climax to the England run chase at Trent Bridge- was simply awesome.

Beckham & Co should be humbled. And its also true to say that the over-hyped Premiership can't compete with the titanic competition offered by the Ashes this summer.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Historic Irish win finds Eriksson under fire

Northern Ireland's first win over England since 1972, their first at Windsor Park since 1927. Denmark's first win at home over England since 1948. Winning qualifiers is proving something of a tricky affair,as we constantly go to shoot ourselves in the foot, remedy the wound reasonably enough to only have it reopened again. So far we are involved in setting records, negatively.

Was this another win that meant more for the hosts than for their guests? With all due respect, we are seen as able enough to accomplish topping the group after the 10 matches but in reality remaining second for the play-offs. Now we rely on winning our remaining games against Austria and Poland to top the group, and fortunately Poland's last remaining game is against us so we have our destiny tightly in our hands. We don't need to rely on other sides for good results, like we could have done with in Warsaw last night.

Amongst the arguments about the appropriate formation is the fact that no-one outside the England camp, with the exception of Wayne Rooney, are content with the current formation if it means playing Rooney out of position. Nothing has been confirmed but I'm certain his frustrations were borne from not being at least tucked behind Michael Owen. Why can the England coach not see this? If he sees Rooney is positioned where he shouldn't be, as was stated by John Motson during commentary, then instructions should be sent immediately to re-position him. That could have made the difference between his contribution and his eventual frustration.

Word has been said about Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard, though Gerrard has been the more industrious of the two since Wales. I don't know why. Beckham was far more involved than before but he couldn't cajole the two centre-midfielders enough with his play. His "postage stamp" freekick and Gerrard getting forward to set up Owen for an acrobatic effort were the only two chances to speak of in the first half. But Rooney loves to play his football from his more centre forward position, it was where he was when he latched on to the pass to score the consolation against Denmark. Where he was when he latched onto the Joseph Yobo mistake to score at Everton. Where he was when he jumped onto the hesitation by Jean-Alain Boumsong to score at Newcastle.

We had a good non-productive first half, having the majority of possession , yet Northern Ireland giving us enough to keep us aware and on our guard. In the second half we came forward but wouldn't guide the kind of final ball that we are known to thrive on, that takes a touch or finish from one of many talents we have. The Irish treated most of the balls into the box as rejects, heading them out with clearance and determination. England were not on the end of those balls enough to even cause a scare, cause panic. We were not playing in Windsor Park, we were playing somewhere below par.

The goal came because Northern Ireland kept their pressure on us with hope we'd buckle somewhere while we kept ours on them with no focus. Having gone into the break 0-0 without England having any more than two hearted chances on goal, coach Lawrie Sanchez had that to recall for inspiration in the dressing room. When Aston Villa's Steven Davis came forward on attack, we backed off, no central midfielder going to Davis, no Beckham in his holding role, Davis was allowed to pass through to David Healy on the right. The defence had stepped up but Rio Ferdinand is clearly playing Healy onside and the Leeds man went on to finish like England should have done. Add to that an almost carbon copy effort by sub Warren Feeney afterwards that skimmed across Paul Robinson.

Graeme Le Saux correctly mentioned that Joe Cole would be introduced if nothing came within the first moments of the second half, and early enough he came on for Shaun Wright-Phillips with barely 10 minutes gone. SWP was key on the right hand side and with time and some insight could have used his pace eventually to get behind the Irish defence, albeit they had two defenders on him at times.

Almost immediately after the goal Owen Hargreaves comes on for Gerrard, five minutes later Jermaine Defoe came on for Lampard. Hargreaves is not England material, much less central midfield material. He lost possession deep in our half and almost gifted Northern Ireland a chance. When he was on the ball in our half they pressured him to almost good effect. The shape of the side is mish-mash, Beckham is right midfield but cannot run with Rooney struck in front of him, Joe Cole equally with Defoe, Owen is the sole striker to aim for. Our response was one of desperation. Not even four minutes injury time could muster an effort of quality on target, Maik Taylor kept cool command in goal.

I thought the Denmark game was the kick on the backside we needed. But, having just scraped past Wales through a deflection and now lost to a side ranked 116th in the world, who hadn't won a competitive match for four years, never beaten us for over 30 years, never beaten us at their national ground for over 75 years, it seems we need more than a kick. Sven Goran Eriksson shouldn't be sacked now or quit unless England fail to qualify. Eriksson said it was up to the media and the FA as to whether he stays in his coaching role, but it's not. It is up to the players he selects.


Monday, September 05, 2005

Brazil just looking so good for 2006

Watched the Brazil v Chile qualifier last night, and saw some great football from the hosts. Their defence is slightly questionable but those questions were not asked entirely by the Chilean forwards, who were dwarfed in terms of performance by their Brazilian counterparts. The talk of the game was their second goal. Defender Juan winning possession on the half-way line, feeding Robinho in the Chilean half, who sent a ball across to Adriano on the right, who skipped a tackle and crossed with his right foot, Kaka coming down onto the left side and knocking the ball back across with his first touch, Ronaldo picked it up and with quick feet tapped it to Robinho, whose first touch finished the whole move with a goal. It was a template for how to attack with efficiency and to finish with style.

Adriano looks strong, good body strength like Emile Heskey but not as bulky, has pace, a good left foot and a sharp eye for goal. He scored a hat-trick, two of his goals involved him running just behind but to the side of the defence, in space, no one picking him up or tracking him, and when the ball was passed to him, he had the time and space to pick his shot.

Chile's position interests me as it has a bearing on their FIFA ranking and Mark Gonzales's move to Liverpool in January. They lie just outside the play-off position and need to beat Columbia and Ecuador on the 8th and 11th October respectively to stand a chance of qualifying, and even then it would seem to ask a lot of the other countries above them to suddenly lose their final games.

Having held Brazil at home 1-1, Chile were a shadow of that performance. They seemed unfortunate but lacked any ambition against a side that had Ronaldinho missing. They conceded initially from a soft header, the third via an Adriano shot, the fourth from an Adriano header from a corner and the fifth a carbon copy of the third goal.

Brazil join Argentina as early qualifiers for Germany 2006, and certainly have laid down the gauntlet to anyone who wishes to deny them another World Cup title.


Sunday, September 04, 2005

Djibril Cisse will prove his doubters wrong and bring joy to Liverpool fans

Djibril Cisse (DC) shows so much passion and commitment on the pitch that I am now confident about him being a real hit at Liverpool.

If anyone wants to understand what it means to score a goal, you just have to watch the way DC celebrates after scoring a goal. When he equalised in the Super Cup few weeks ago, his beaming smile and hands punching the air was very touching, especially given all the rumors surrounding his “imminent departure”. That was a message to Rafa, don’t let me go and give me a chance.

DC has a lot to improve if he wants to be a success at Liverpool. However, I have seen glimpses of brilliance to think that he will deliver. In the modern game, strikers need pace, DC has that in abundance all he needs to do is to learn how to use his electrifying pace to frighten defenders in the Premiership and Europe.

He scored two well taken goals for France last night and was involved in the other goal as well.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

England gain needed win.....just.

No, I wasn't too pleased with England today. I didn't like the formation, I didn't find David Beckham too accommodating in the holding role, not that he didn't play well but I felt he would be better positioned on the wing. The line-up allowed a start for Shaun Wright-Phillips and he did quite well, only that again we lacked enough crosses from the wing positions at times when we could have done with them. The formation at least brought a bit more life from the midfield duo of Frank Lampard and more so from Steven Gerrard but our best moment was the one-two between Gerrard and Wayne Rooney and a save from Danny Coyne.

Other chances seemed to go begging, particularly Beckham's ball which he hit across with some spin to bend it in and Joe Cole missed a header from mere yards. Should have been on target. The Wales team played quite well and John Hartson was a handful for Jamie Carragher, who had a reasonably good game covering for John Terry. Great stop by Paul Robinson to deny Hartson his headed effort.

Beckham was much better today and began in the second half sending the ball over on occasion to Wright-Phillips and it was one of those balls the new Chelsea winger controlled to pass across for J Cole to score. Good goal and it was about time. When the substitutions occurred, Jermaine Defoe on for Wright-Phillips, pushing Rooney into the right wing role, the services forward dried up. Rooney drifted over to the left, Beckham came over to the left, it was as if our left flank had no-one taking responsibility. Gerrard was taken off for Owen Hargreaves, who came on to the delight of the home crowd, and J Cole eventually made way for Kieron Richardson, who I think can be a big player on the left after his display in the States.

Wales began to get forward more with the crowd behind them, and on a few occasions got near enough to goal to threaten an equaliser, one of those occasions was dealt with by a Rio Ferdinand needed clearance. Overall, England were good enough for the win but not convincing enough to deserve it, it couldn't be said to be the ideal backlash response after Copenhagen. I would like to see more attacking play than the pass-to-pass-to-pass build up we do, as if no one wants to take the ball and break through onto goal. But it's the result that counts, and England have three points. Most will probably agree that the same for Wednesday will be sufficient.


Friday, September 02, 2005

Sven is part of the show, who is pulling the strings?

Who is it in the England football camp who is taking control of strategic tactical issues in general? The most I've heard from Sven Goran Eriksson is that he has spoken to the players about the Denmark defeat and shown them a video of the match, to which, in his words, they showed some dismay at viewing. As well they should, but is that it? It is mentioned that the Swede is not one to display his emotions, and perhaps we do not need to see his expressions to realise he is hurt inside but I still do not have the confidence that he is in charge of the players and guiding them through his formation and tactics.

That is not to say that the players disrespect him but I feel they have an opinion on who they believe should start, maybe even always start. A senior player may feel not so comfortable playing with a less senior player or with a player not considered to have been playing good enough to be a first-team choice. David Beckham denies there being 'player power' though admits there being discussions between a number of senior players and Eriksson regarding the suitable formation and tactics for the Wales game. Certainly that is to be expected, for the manager to discuss things with his players, but the question is are the players following a planned strategy of their own or Eriksson's?

Sacrificing a striker for the 4-5-1 formation is appropriate for this game because Owen isn't playing. I suppose Eriksson will cross the bridge when he comes to it, but what if the 4-5-1 works very well? Does Owen then make way to the bench for the Northern Ireland game? It is not 4-5-1 but 4-3-2-1, though I still insist on a 4-4-2, Jermaine Defoe should partner Wayne Rooney, two goal hungry strikers who can run and will shoot from anywhere. Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard are good enough to read the game much better than they did in Denmark and should choose who stays and who goes. In the proposed 4-3-2-1, Beckham sweeps behind the midfield so Lampard and Gerrard can go together, Shaun Wright-Phillips and Joe Cole on the wings. It appears unclear at the moment which formation will start tomorrow, but the likelihood is 4-3-2-1.

As for Wales, they began under John Toshack a shaky side with players suddenly retiring from international football. But the former Real Madrid and Sporting Lisbon coach has had a change in attitude from the remaining players. What doesn't help their preparations is the public spat between Toshack and Robbie Savage, the latter appearing more and more desperate to play after his public words. Toshack is right to exclude him from selection. Wales were minnows until Mark Hughes took charge and the likes of Craig Bellamy and Simon Davies emerged as good talents, Danny Gabbidon's defending alongside Andy Melville, Gary Speed, Savage and Ryan Giggs in midfield to name a few. The side has dropped since then and Toshack seems to be the man who can re-install that bite into the Wales squad again.

I expect an England win, whether it will be a handsome one will depend on the formation employed.



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