England v Andorra
Some five hours from now England will begin its Euro2008 qualification quest against Andorra at Old Trafford this evening, from a group E that includes Macedonia on Wednesday, Croatia, Israel, Russia, and Estonia.
From the outset Rio Ferdinand is unavailable due to a bruised digit on his foot, and that now paves the way for either Wes Brown, Matt Dawson or maybe even Phil Neville alongside John Terry, though my bet says Brown will be picked first. He is a good defender, has not had many games recently but he still maintains fitness and can slot in after absence with hardly any rustiness. The fact that Steve McClaren was formerly of Man Utd is not that significant, the difference between Brown and Dawson is slight when you consider Dawson's form last season but to choose I would go for Brown, probably because he has had more experience at senior level.
With Gary Neville also unavailable, the back four should be Luke Young, Terry (capt.), Brown, Ashley Cole, with the midfield as Steven Gerrard, Owen Hargreaves, Frank Lampard, probably Stewart Downing, Jermaine Defoe and Peter Crouch. I would prefer Andy Johnson or Darren Bent on current form but Defoe is commended for his mannerism and attitude in disappointment of eventually not joining the World Cup squad in June. Talk has mentioned of Cole being a better balanced player with the transfer saga over, and I hope that is so today.
As for Andorra, McClaren spoke of their suspicious underhand tactics of rough tackling and a tendency to wind up the opposition, a summary based on the Andorra games against Holland and Romanina in the World Cup qualifiers. The Dutch won 4-0 at home and had Philip Cocu sent off for elbowing an Andorran player. Romania won away 1-5. McClaren has called for the Austrian referee Bernhard Brugger to keep a stern watch on the Andorrans. Elsewhere talk has stated an expectancy of a goal feast, once again talking too soon and underestimating. We have the players, the capability, we have known this for years and on paper there are a few teams who could possibly beat us. Andorra is not one of those few teams but with a team as low-ranking as they are, goals is not the prime focus. Our playability is, as it was against Greece.
My main concern is Macedonia on Wednesday, 8pm kick-off at the Gradski Stadion in the captial Skopje. We have only played there the once in September 2003 during the Euro qualifers for 2004, winning 1-2 with goals from Georgi Hristov in the first half followed by Wayne Rooney and David Beckham replying in the second. Neither player will be available come Wednesday, Rooney is suspended and Beckham is said to have no chance of playing for England, while I say there is. The man has stepped down as captain but clearly has some more in him to play well and we will see when he turns out for Real.
As I say for today's game, we can win 1-0 as long as we do it in the style we have come to witness from our players domestically, continuing on from the Greece game. Sir Bobby Robson is recovering from an operation on a brain tumour, to which he appears to have had a slight adverse reaction that caused a swelling to the brain and resulting in a loss of feeling down his left side. Sir Bobby continues to be in good spirits nonetheless and EFT wish him a speedy successful recovery.