What Moldova Need to Do to Shock England
Currently regarded as the 123rd best international team in the world―a full 109 places lower than their Friday night opponents―and about to nervously set foot onto one of world football’s grandest stages, you’d be forgiven for feeling a little apprehensive right now if you are Moldovan.
Everything points to the side coached by Ion Caras being on the end of a hiding by England at Wembley in their World Cup qualifier on Friday night.
The Three Lions haven’t really sparkled during this qualification campaign, or indeed at any point under the managerial tenure of the dour Roy Hodgson, but surely they should have enough to see off their next opponents. Moldova are a side who not only have never qualified for a major international tournament, they've never even got close to one.
But are there signs of life in the Moldovan game at the moment? Signs that they could, while not necessarily beat England at Wembley, at least make the English sweat a little?
Caras is back in charge of the young Eastern European nation having been at the helm for the vast majority of the 1990s, when the country declared itself an independent state following the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
He was the boss who oversaw their most notable qualification efforts to date: the Euro 96 campaign which featured wins over Georgia and Wales in the capital city Chisinau.
True, this time around qualification has featured a 5-0 home loss to England and just one win over the Group H doormats San Marino, but Caras would be right to point to a gradual improvement of his nation’s footballing fortunes.
In qualification for Euro 2012 they only lost 1-0 both home and away to group winners the Netherlands, while they managed to score a goal in both matches against runners-up Sweden, only going down 2-1 in Stockholm.
In truth, their home qualifier against England almost a year ago was doomed from the moment that Frank Lampard put the visitors ahead inside four minutes, and repelling that early charge from the home side at Wembley is going to be key to any hopes that the Moldovans have of making this an uncomfortable night for Hodgson.
In recent home friendly matches against the Republic of Ireland and Scotland―hardly international football’s leading lights but admittedly much stronger opposition than the Moldovans―England suffered from conceding an early goal. Against the Irish they had to settle for a draw, while Rickie Lambert’s late winner was needed to see off the Scots.
Doing something as earth-shattering as scoring a goal at Wembley might be beyond Moldova’s wildest dreams―although only San Marino have failed to score there of the last five visitors, while they’ll surely have picked up on the recent struggles of home goalkeeper Joe Hart and will test him out accordingly―but keeping their cool in those early stages will be vital.
It took England 35 minutes to break down San Marino at Wembley last October, and defending deep is likely to be the visitors’ best hope against a vibrant attack which, although missing the injured Wayne Rooney, will still be dangerous enough because of one man.
Daniel Sturridge is thriving at Liverpool. He’s scored three goals in three Premier League games this season, five in four in all competitions and 16 strikes in 20 matches since he joined the Reds last January.
He will clearly be the biggest threat to the Moldovans if selected by Hodgson, but defend deep and deny him any space to run in behind them and the minnows can frustrate both the forward and his team.
The possibility of the visitors “shocking” their opponents by delivering the type of victory that will be remembered for generations to come all around the world is a remote one, but if Moldova can keep things tight and draw on those experiences they picked up against the Dutch, then grinding out a draw against Hodgson’s often timid team isn’t out of the question.
Such a result would be as much about England’s failings than Moldova’s triumph, but there is no harm in the visitors dreaming about it.
And if they do that, they might find that they’ve got a lot less to be nervous about than they thought they did.
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