Monday, 1 June 2009

England look to end the season in style

The league and cups may have been decided and we may be into June, but the football season isn’t quite over yet.

Two crucial World Cup qualifiers lie ahead for England – a trip to Kazakhstan on Saturday and the home game with Andorra four days later.

With Fabio Capello’s men five points clear at the top at the halfway stage of qualifying, six points from these fixtures would almost certainly guarantee a place at the 2010 World Cup – especially as two of the final three fixtures are at home.

On paper two wins should not be a problem, these are the two weakest sides in the group. But the Kazakhstan fixture in particular has ‘banana skin’ written all over it.

It’s a long trip for starters, longer than any of the other destinations. The facilities will not be what our pampered Premier League stars are used to and, after a long hard season, fatigue may be a factor.

That long season has already led to a number players pulling out due to injury. The Three Lions are without Michael Carrick, David James, Ben Foster, Phil Jagielka and Stewart Downing. Injuries, of course, offer opportunities for others and the likes of James Milner, Paul Robinson and, most surprisingly, veteran Gary Neville have all earned recalls.

Because of the timing of the fixture and the number of injuries, I don’t expect it to be a classic – England need to just do enough to get the points and get out. It’s very much like a FA Cup tie away at a lower league club, England need to do just enough to avoid a giant-killing.

The home game with Andorra should be a formality, though in the reverse fixture England toiled 45 minutes before finally breaking their stubborn resistance. If England can get an early goal it should open things up for them.

Any slip ups will pile the pressure on their remaining fixtures, against the strongest sides in the group, Belarus, Ukraine and Croatia. I think Capello will be aware of this and will not allow his side to take the game lightly, undoing all their hard work in the first half of the campaign.

I predict that England will not upset the football odds and will record two wins, with plenty of goals against the Andorrans, meaning we can all go on our summer holidays satisfied at a season's work well done.