Croatia vs. England
The Anchor Man previews Wednesday's World Cup qualifier in Zagreb.
Fabio Capello will have learned very little about his players on Saturday evening but that’s unlikely to be the case in Zagreb on Wednesday. He takes England to play Croatia and, given how the Three Lions’ qualifying campaign for Euro 2008 ended, it is sure to be an intriguing clash.
If Joe Cole’s omission against Andorra was tactical, as opposed to the Chelsea star being rested, then Capello already has some explaining to do. Cole has been England’s best player for at least two seasons now and is one of the very few genuine top class players that the men in white possess. He rarely gives the ball away and is superb at supporting those further forward, as his brace in Barcelona illustrated. I’ll be amazed if he is left to warm the bench again and so, probably, will Joe.
The other major talking point to emerge from Wednesday was, once again, Wayne Rooney’s contribution. It’s now just two goals for the Manchester United striker in competitive matches since England were dumped out of Euro 2004 and, while his overall performances remain well above average, his strike rate has to be a worry.
Rooney is clearly most effective playing off another striker but the problem that he, and Capello for that matter, currently has is England's lack of anybody of the required standard to fill such a role. Rooney’s best performances have come, in the vast majority, when Michael Owen has lead the line but without somebody of his ability to play on the shoulder Rooney’s desired space is usually occupied by his partner, if he is afforded the luxury of one.
Peter Crouch’s presence sees England lump it forward, Emile Heskey is only effective for so long, while Jermaine Defoe doesn’t appear to have the intelligence, or patience, to be an international footballer. The latter of that trio was hauled off at half-time on Wednesday and it will be interesting to see just who Fabio goes with. I, for one, don’t envy his decision.
The one real positive for England on Wednesday was Theo Walcott’s promising effort on the right flank but the vibe coming from the camp is that David Beckham will be given the nod against Croatia and that is surely a step, if not two, backwards.
While England’s opponents on Wednesday had their hearts broken in Vienna by Semih Senturk’s extra-time equaliser and subsequent penalty shootout defeat to Turkey it must not be forgotten just how dominant they were during qualification and how well they had performed in Group B at Euro 2008 prior to their exit. Two wins against Steve McClaren’s England was certainly no fluke and who can forget the way they toyed with Germany for more than an hour in Klagenfurt.
It’s no wonder Slaven Bilic, currently being courted by West Ham and Newcastle, is in such demand but he does have a fantastic group of players to work with and they are rightly favourites to maintain their 100% record in Group Six. They beat Kazakhstan 3-0 on Saturday, and result not to be sniffed at, but could have had four or five and England, especially if Rio Ferdinand fails a late fitness test, are in for a tough night.
At the prices there is only one bet to be had and the 2.50 about the home side looks big. I see England coming for a point but, as has been the case twice in recent years against Wednesday’s opponents, I don’t see them getting anything.
Back Croatia LOST
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