As was to be expected, San Marino posed no threat whatsoever to England on Friday evening but Roy Hodgson’s men are likely to find things tougher against group leaders Montenegro in Podgorica tonight.
The two sides are of course familiar with each other having been drawn in the same qualifying group for last year’s European Championships.
That both games ended with a share of the spoils – with the match in Podgorica seeing England surrender a 2-0 lead and Wayne Rooney given his marching orders with 20 minutes remaining – illustrates how much of a sterner test Montenegro offer when compared with San Marino, who were embarrassingly ineffective.
Even so, England are favourites to pick up three points in bwin’s 3Way football betting market at 17/20, with the away victory at 17/5 and the draw at 23/10.
And although Hodgson and his players will be aware of the quality of the opposition and expect a hostile reception, England will be in a confident mood against a side who sit 24 places below them in the Fifa rankings.
I’m confident of England’s chances too, and although I’m not tempted by the odds-on quote about an away win, the 21/10 on an England win with over 2.5 goals looks the play to me.
For all of Montenegro’s merits, I’m finding it difficult to look past the fact that their defence features Stefan Savic, who looked well out of his depth in his short spell with Manchester City last season.
And while England have defensive worries of their own, their attackers – and the in-form Wayne Rooney in particular – possess more than enough quality to expose Savic once more.
The United forward has scored in each of his last three games for club and country, has notched five in four for England and is 4/1 to open the scoring,
Given England’s aforementioned defensive worries – a subject I’ll elaborate on shortly – the Three Lions are likely to need two goals to pick up all three points.
With Rooney on fire this looks more than achievable, while recent history also suggests that goals are on the agenda.
Six of England’s eight matches since they were knocked out of the European Championships last summer by Italy have seen three or more goals.
This has also been the case in three of Montenegro’s five group games, and with the group’s two leading scoring sides coming head to head, backing over 2.5 goals in this match at 11/10 could prove fruitful.
Given all this, and the fact that I reckon the Three Lions can outgun the home side, combining over 2.5 goals with an England win looks the way forward.
But back to Hodgson’s defensive headache: with a catalogue of absentees, Joleon Lescott and Chris Smalling filled the void in central defence on Friday evening and neither has played much first-team football for their respective clubs this season.
It will therefore be a tough ask for the pairing to keep a clean sheet against an attack that has scored in each of their five group games.
And while I remain convinced of the merits of an England win with over 2.5 goals, Rooney’s form and the fact the Three Lions’ defence is built on such shaky foundations means backing both teams to score at 91/100 is the best bet for those looking for more of a sure-fire thing.