It’s been a difficult week for Roy Hodgson ahead of England’s pivotal double header with San Marino and Montenegro, after Rio Ferdinand’s withdrawal from the squad, owing to a strict training regime at his club Manchester United, was closely followed by injuries to Chelsea’s Gary Cahill and Tottenham captain Michael Dawson.
Ferdinand’s decision to opt out left Hodgson red faced after initially refusing to call up the United defender for previous squads despite his impressive form for the league leaders this term. Ferdinand’s last appearance for the national side coming back in July 2011, and although the 34 year old has stated his desire to be considered for future squads, his England future must now be in doubt.
That leaves Hodgson with just four recognised centre-backs, with one of the vastly inexperienced trio of Steven Taylor, Steven Caulker and Chris Smalling, or even holding midfielder Michael Carrick, set to partner Joleon Lescott at the heart of the defence, and even the Manchester City defender has struggled for first team football at the Etihad his season.
While it certainly shouldn’t pose too many problems on Friday evening given the quality of opposition – San Marino currently sit bottom of the Fifa rankings alongside Bhutan and the Turks and Caicos Islands – it is Tuesday’s trip to Podgorica to face group leaders Montenegro that will give Hodgson and his coaching staff the greatest concern.
Friday’s match should be as much of a formality for the Three Lions as the odds suggest. England priced at 1/100 to pick up their third win of the World Cup qualifying campaign, with the draw 31/2, while the seemingly impossible, a win for Giampaolo Mazza’s men, can be backed at 50/1 in the bwin 3way football betting market.
The sides have come up against each other in the campaign already, when a brace from both Wayne Rooney and Danny Welbeck and a first senior international goal for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain secured England a 5-0 win that was to be expected against a side who have failed to score in their four group games, while conceding 16 goals.
Since then, the Three Lions have drawn 1-1 in Poland, which saw them slip to second in Group H, and played two friendly matches, the first ending in a 4-2 defeat against Sweden courtesy of a Zlatan Ibrahimovic masterclass, before they secured their first win over Brazil for 23 years as they emerged 2-1 victors at Wembley last month.
Rooney opened the scoring against Luiz Felipe Scolari’s men that night to take his tally of international goals to 33 in 79 matches for his country. He currently sits fifth in the all time England goalscorers list, 16 behind top scorer Bobby Charlton, and he’ll fancy his chances of increasing his tally in Serravalle tomorrow evening.
It’s been a difficult season for the forward, who has notched 12 league goals, with rumours surfacing that United are ready to sell the former Everton man after he remained on the bench for the side’s Champions League 2-1 second leg defeat to Real Madrid this month, a move Sir Alex Ferguson has described as purely tactical.
The forward has responded with a goal in each of his following two matches, and looks a great price to open the scoring, as he did for United in their 1-0 win at home to Reading last weekend. Rooney is priced at 7/4 to notch first against the minnows, and with five goals in his last five England games – four of which were the first goal of the match – the United striker is in fine goalscoring form for his country. A repeat of the two goals he scored in the reverse fixture in October or more is worth considering at 11/10.
The goalscorer market is where most of the value lies given the gulf in class between the two sides, and having notched up his 200th goal for Chelsea in their 2-0 victory at home to West Ham on Sunday, Frank Lampard looks a decent price at 3/5 to find the net at anytime, particularly as he is the national side’s nominated penalty taker.
There should be very little to fear if anything for England in the Stadio Olimpico, and it will be important for the side to secure a convincing victory ahead of their top of the table clash with Montenegro on Tuesday night.