6th September 2012
England start their 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign in Moldova, facing a team that are goalless in last five games, and the Three Lions will certainly be happy to hear about their opponents’ scoring problems now that Wayne Rooney and Andy Carroll have both been ruled out of the clash.
Ranked 137th in FIFA world standings, Moldova face a difficult task at the start of the new qualifying campaign and this is clearly not the match in which they should be searching for points needed to improve their position in the standings. The presence of San Marino means that Moldova won’t be finishing last in Group H, while they will be hoping to take some points off Montenegro, Poland and Ukraine. Given that the team have failed to score in their last five friendly games, they clearly have no choice but to opt for a defence-minded approach and hope England’s back-up strikers will continue to underperform at international level. As long as the hosts don’t concede in the opening exchanges, they stand a chance of frustrating their more illustrious opponents, with goalless draws against Albania and Belarus showing Moldova can even keep a clean sheet when they are up for it.
For the first time after quite a while England arrived at a major tournament amidst very low expectations and this absence of pressure certainly benefited Roy Hodgson’s side. The Three Lions were hardly a joy to watch, but their defensive organization and tactical discipline helped them progress from a very difficult group. Despite being largely outclassed by Italy in the quarter-finals, England managed to take the tie to penalties, with Joe Hart surviving a real onslaught to keep a clean sheet. The Three Lions got revenge on the Azzurri by beating them in a friendly game, although it is important to note their opponents were severely weakened at Wembley. The time has come for Roy Hodgson’s side to embark on a new qualifying campaign and while everyone expects an easy victory in Moldova, I believe England could face some unexpected problems in this match. With Wayne Rooney and Andy Carroll out through injury, two of Defoe, Welbeck, Sturridge and Walcott are likely to start the match, and this is hardly a perfect scenario given that none of these players is now considered a first team regular at their club.
Moldova are hardly a force to be reckoned with in European football, but their defence-minded approach should make sure the result stays respectable, especially as England are not in the best shape. Roy Hodgson is hardly spoilt for choices in attack, which is why the Three Lions will be more than happy to grind out a victory at the start of the 2014 World Cup qualifiers.
Verdict: Under 2.5 goals
Best Odds: 19/20