England make the longest trip in Europe tonight to take on Kazakhstan. The party have flown over 3,500 miles to the Eastern edge of the continent to take on the side they beat 5-1 at Wembley back in October.
At the end of a long season and after such a big journey, manager Fabio Capello could be excused for worrying about tiredness amongst his squad. However, when that issue was put to him he was quick to dismiss it.
“It’s a long trip but we must remember that they played well in first half at Wembley. This is the problem, not the jet-lag and the flight. It will not be an easy game. I watched the last two games Kazakhstan played. They started well, pressing and running a lot and they had good positions on the pitch and were not easy to score against. But sometimes when you run and press a lot by the end of the game the focus is not the same as at the start.”
What Capello says in relation to fading away at the end of games is certainly backed up by the facts. When England won 5-1 at Wembley the home side didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t break the deadlock until the 52nd minute. Three goals came in the last fifteen minutes.
On 1st April, Kazakhstan played at home to Belarus and lost 5-1 after leading 1-0 at half-time.
It is no surprise that England are heavy favourites to win the game as they enter having won all five of their qualifiers so far. Kazakhstan have picked up just the three points they got for beating EnglandÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s next opponents Andorra. Whatever Mr Capello might say about all games being difficult, there have surely not been two easier qualifying matches in a row before. If England donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t get six easy points it will be nothing short of embarrassing.
Skipper John Terry has tried to sound a warning note by saying the game tonight will be tough,
“It’s going to a difficult game. They started the game well at Wembley and made it difficult for us in the first half. But we find as a county that wherever we go everyone raises their game and Kazakhstan are going to be no different. We know they’re going to press us early on, but if we can come away with three points it will put us in a great position in the group. The key is to be organised and keep our concentration. If we can do that, we should get the right result.”
Whilst I fully understand why JT would say this sort of thing it is surely more accurate to say that the key is for the multi-millionaire full-time superstar footballers to play to their potential and easily beat the poorly paid part-timers of Kazakhstan!
Whilst England should be picking up three points the other qualifiers of note today include other relatively straight forward games for Portugal in Albania and Holland in Iceland. Croatia take on Ukraine in the race to catch England. That is a difficult one to predict.
In a friendly game, Italy take on Northern Ireland in a game that they should win comfortably. However, it is always dangerous to write off the Irish.
Here we go with the predictions then. I did well in the last lot of international matches but IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m not so confident this time around.
Kazakhstan 0-3 England
Albania 0-2 Portugal
Iceland 1-3 Holland
Croatia 1-0 Ukraine
Italy 2-0 Northern Ireland
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