Can England see off Ukraine?
It was nice of Greg Dyke to remind us all that England aren’t good enough to win the World Cup in Brazil next year. Of course, he’s very probably right, but his timing stinks.
Because now it’s crunch time and, never mind what might happen in nine months (or even nine years when football’s helpful new supremo says we should be lifting the trophy in the baking heat of Qatar). All anybody in the England camp is thinking about right now is actually qualifying.
If England are beaten in Ukraine tomorrow night, they are in serious danger of not making it to the finals; and even if they avoid defeat, they will still have two potential banana skins at Wembley to negotiate. We have been here before, of course, but this time it would really hurt, missing out on a fabulous party to which everybody else who is anybody else has been invited.
And that might even include Cape Verde (the holiday islands with less than half the population as Bristol), who have reached the African final play-offs. England just have to be there.
Coral rate the game in Kiev too close to call – 17/10 Ukraine, 17/10 England, 21/10 the draw, which demonstrates the precarious position of both sides.
It would have helped England’s cause if at least one of Wayne Rooney, Danny Welbeck or Daniel Sturridge had been available and although Ricky Lambert has done extremely well on his two Wembley appearances, this extremely hostile environment will be something else entirely for a striker who had only just started playing Premier League football this time last year.
What England will need above all else are cool heads and the experience of seen-it-all-before players like captain Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard, who will again provide the bedrock in midfield. Gerrard, who opened the scoring against Moldova last Friday, is 10/1 to do so again, while wouldn’t in be fitting if Lampard got on the scoresheet (100/30 at any time) to celebrate his 100th cap?
Much has been made of the dangerous Ukraine forward line and in Yevgen Konoplyanka (9/1 to score first, 100/30 at any time) they have a player of genuine high quality.
Yet though they predictably ran riot against San Marino last Friday, it took them a total of two and a half hours to break down Moldova (they drew 0-0 away and beat them 2-1 at home), a team England have scored against for fun in Group H.
It will be noisy and intimidating in Kiev, but there will also be intense pressure on the home team to perform and this could well work against them if things don’t go their way early on.
So a 2-0 England victory (12/1with Coral) is not just wishful thinking.
Written by Jon Freeman