2 hours from realisation
Amidst the rumours that Roman Abramovich has given an incentive to the Russian players of £40,000 on completion of a victory tonight, the England squad all reported for training to give a better boost of confidence to Steve McLaren. Owen Hargreaves and Frank Lampard out, McLaren looks set to unveil the same players who featured in Saturday's win against Israel. But Israel is totally different to Russia. While the Israelis felt prepared to sit and defend England out, with England responding in kind by a relax biuld-up with more time and space on the ball as a result, the Russians I expect will look to fly at England from the start. Something which I want to see England do to the Russians instead, otherwise we will seek to soak up the Russians' pressure and aim to hit them on the counter which limits our approach on their goal.
Nothing wrong with Emile Heskey alongside Michael Owen, felt he provided exactly the kind of response and problems for Israel we wanted from him, which drowned the doubts about his selection. Steven Gerrard and Gareth Barry know each other from the Euro2000 days and they linked up comfortably on Saturday BUT I expect they both will be busier tonight. They have a good understanding of one up, one holding back and Barry adds a different scheme of things from central midfield. The player of the moment is not Owen, contrary to the press who by-passed the efforts of Shaun Wright-Phillips. SWP twisted and drapped up the Israeli left back and will have to be more vigilant with the Russian player marking him, meaning I want for him to add crosses earlier and with good accuracy, something both Owen and Heskey simply thrive on.
I think we can win, but it's not so much the victory but the method of gaining it. Three points is three points regardless but if we are to enter into qualification, we should do so with a good amount of pedigree. Some may say we cannot achieve that without Lampard and/or Hargreaves but I say we can and we can show as much tonight. The Russians have drawn their two matches with Croatia and we should not have lost in Zagreb considering what happened. A win tonight also means we are capable of dealing with the Croatians properly and therefore set ourselves well for qualification. Eight o'clock tonight awaits.
Speaking of England, a mention has to go to the England Women's team who kicked off their World Cup campaign yesterday afternoon against Japan. Kelly Smith pulled England back level after Japan's no.16 Aya Mimaya scored a superb freekick from some 20-25 yards, almost similar to Christiano Ronaldo's in the friendly with a Europe XI. Smith was on hand again to put the English into the lead with some 10 minutes remaining, only for England to concede a freekick practically around the same spot as before. Considering England's fortunes, I pondered whether Mimaya would do it again and lo behold she did, this time bending the ball to the keeper's right.