England v Croatia, 2010 World Cup qualifier, September 10, 2009
They think its all over. Well it should be by Wednesday night.
England stand on the brink of qualification for the 2010 World Cup finals, knowing the a win against the relatively new enemy Croatia at Wembley will confirm the Three Lions participation at next summer’s showpiece event.
Slaven Bilic’s side will be hamstrung by the loss of their Tottenham duo Luka Modric (injured) and Vedran Corluka (suspended), but the Eastern Europeans will still arrive with a galaxy of stars who could easily pickpocket the English defence if presented with the opportunity.
Niko Kranjcar (5/1 to score), the latest Croat to move to White Hart Lane, could well be given the specific job of attacking England vulnerable right-back Glen Johnson at every occasion, with Kranjcar knowing Johnson’s game inside and out following their time together at Portsmouth.
Likely to pack out the rest of Bilic’s midfield are the superbly talented Danijel Pranjic, Ivan Rakitic and Dario Srna who are all good enough to dominate the centre of the park on their night. Finally, up-top the Croats can also boast a frighteningly good strike-force with Ivica “never-stop-running” Olic (10/3 to score) and Eduardo “sharp-shooter” da Silva (10/3 to score) leading the line.
For all of the flak England have received following their narrow victory against Slovenia last Saturday, the fact remains that Fabio Capello’s side are seven wins from seven in qualifying, and the Three Lions could easily end up winning every match through the qualifying process. Yet, even if that were to be the case, it would still take a brave punter to back England to collect the trophy for the first time in over 50 years.
Taking injuries and absentees into account, the England team almost picks itself for the match with Croatia. The spine of the team will flow from Robert Green and John Terry at the back (England are 5/6 to keep a clean sheet), through Steven Gerrard (7/2 to score & England to win), Gareth Barry and Frank Lampard in midfield, all the way to Wayne Rooney (4/1 to score first) up-front.
The only question-marks which appear open are who will line up in the right-side of midfield and who will partner Rooney in the England attack.
The smart money will be for Aaron Lennon, who has started the new year in fine form for Spurs and who benefitted from SWP’s poor showing in England’s last match, to occupy the right touchline when the whistle blows on Wednesday night. Emile Heskey also appears likely to keep his place in the starting line-up even though Jermain Defoe (2/1 to score & England to win) has scored five time in his last three England outings.
After England pummelled Croatia 4-1 in Zagreb at the start of qualification, the assumption would be that in front of their own fans, and with their tickets to South Africa in trouching distance, an England win will prove a formality. Such complacency is exactly the type of thinking which Don Fabio will be looking to erase from his team’s psyche. But, provided the Three Lions can stay focused and concentrated on the task ahead, the nation can prepare to pack their bags for an exciting African summer.
101predicts: England 2 - Croatia 0 (11/2)
Full match odds here.