England-Russia Preview: Qualification or Humiliation?

Jonathan ManleyCorrespondent IOctober 15, 2007

After their fifth-straight 3-0 victory in Euro 2008 qualifying, England head off to Moscow for a game that could well seal their fate.

On the bright side, a win would see England qualify—and mark a satisfactory end to a campaign which looked to be coming off the rails last year.

Should the game end in defeat for the Three Lions, though, the Russians will need only wins over Israel and Andorra to advance to the European Finals—ahead of an expectant England side.

That certainly wasn't in the script.

Even a draw will leave England needing a point at home against Croatia in the final qualifier to ensure safe passage to Austria and Switzerland.

So can England win?

Given their recent play—including a 3-0 win over Russia at Wembley just last month—you would presume so.  But this match is fraught with danger.

To counter the Russians, England will be employing a 4-3-3 instead of their customary 4-4-2. What's more, captain John Terry won't be 100 percent healthy, and Ashley Cole is out with an injury he suffered against Estonia.

Elsewhere on the roster, Steven Gerrard is a man searching for his best form. With Michael Owen still working towards full fitness, the spine of the team won't be as strong as England would like.

The 3-0 Wembley victory was closer than the score indicated, as the Russians enjoyed long spells of possession and could easily have bagged an equaliser barring a very controversial offside decision.

The game in Moscow will be played on artificial turf in subzero temperatures, which will benefit a Russian side accustomed to playing in such conditions.

The bottom line: There are plenty of reasons for everyone associated with England to be nervous ahead of this game. If things don't go well, coach Steve McLaren may be destined for a very short reign as England manager.