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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

England on the ropes! Game preview against Russia!

Game Day!

So what can we expect from England today as they meet the Russian foe?

Uggggh! You can feel the anxiety across the bloody pond for this one.... and damn it, the best we can do over here with all of the lousy American sport channels that abound is ... GameCast on freaking ESPN's website. Now that's sick!! Not even Sentana is stepping up to air this one!

Here is some great commentary on today's match worth duplicating here (with proper credit to the originator):

Sky Sports writes:

The temptation will be for McClaren to embrace the old adage 'if it ain't broke don't fix it' and stick to the side which was ruthlessly efficient on Saturday but as he rightly pointed out, his selection choices will be either brave or foolish, depending on the result.

It is at the business end of the field that McClaren is posed with the biggest conundrum, as he weighs up whether to employ Peter Crouch - back from suspension - or stick with a rejuvenate Emile Heskey, who could afford a wry smile in the direction of his critics following what was a powerful and astute performance at the weekend.

Although McClaren has intimated that he is ready to tinker, given a congested treatment room, it seems likely he will keep faith with those that impressed against Israel.

In midfield he is spared the decision of whether to axe Gareth Barry, assured and polished against Israel, as Frank Lampard and Owen Hargreaves are both unavailable.

Steven Gerrard waxed lyrical over the Aston Villa schemer post-match on Saturday and freed from the shackles of having to rotate forward forays with Lampard, it could be the Liverpool man that proves the key at Wembley. Shaun Wright-Phillips, in tandem with the buccaneering

Micah Richards will hope to build on another strong display, while Joe Cole's return to the left side adds balance and experience.

Paul Robinson will be thankful Israel's attacking prowess was thoroughly derelict, but Russia are likely to pose more questions for a goalkeeper who McClaren has backed, despite widespread criticism from elsewhere, with David James championed for promotion from the bench.

Key to England's success, at least from a defensive perspective, will be nullifying the impact of Russia playmaker Andrei Arshavin, a player that will be looking to expose the absence of a recognised holding midfielder in the home side's line-up. Barry will be charged with the task of keeping a watchful eye.

Hiddink likes to employ a three-man backline and a solid bank of four in front, which allows Arshavin, of Zenit St Petersburg, licence to roam in the final third.

Third-choice keeper Vyacheslav Malafeev will line up between the posts, as regular No.1 Igor Akinfeev is injured and his deputy, Vladimir Gabulov, suspended after being sent off at the weekend against Macedonia.

Sky Sports on Heskey starting for England:

Steve McClaren has praised Emile Heskey's contribution against Israel, with the striker tipped to retain his England place against Russia.

Heskey made his first international appearance in three years when partnering Michael Owen in the weekend's 3-0 success over Israel at Wembley.

But, with Peter Crouch available after suspension, McClaren has been mulling over who will line up alongside Owen in Wednesday's crunch Euro 2008 qualifier with Russia.

Reports suggest McClaren will stick with Heskey up front and the England coach has been happy with the Wigan forward's form.


"I saw evidence of Heskey holding the ball up very, very well on Saturday and bringing players into the game," said McClaren.

"I saw him play against Newcastle for Wigan, and his appetite and attitude was one of the main reasons I brought him in.

"That's exactly what he showed against Israel. He's a handful for defenders when he plays like he did. He gave us an outlet.

"Emile didn't need any motivation. I've always found him to be very professional.
"He has matured with age and he showed that."

Sporting Life:

Russia coach Guus Hiddink claims a Wembley triumph over England on Wednesday night would leave him "nicely surprised".

The Dutchman insists England must be regarded as favourites for the Euro 2008 qualifier even though the visitors will kick off one place and one point ahead - and boast the tightest defence - in Group E.

Hiddink feels Steve McClaren's side is not as poor as some critics have suggested, particularly as their 2-0 loss in Croatia last October was brought about by a freak error by goalkeeper Paul Robinson.

He said: "If we were to win at Wembley I would be nicely surprised because England are regaining their position in the group.

"Before, they spoiled some points. When you see the Croatia game, the white line on the six-yard box was a little bit high and they conceded a goal.

"That might have given people a view away from their real strength, which I think has always been there.

"The friendly with Germany last month, although they lost it, they controlled and dominated the game. There were two lucky goals from Germany.

"Then they beat Israel. If you prevent opportunities against Israel then you do well. Steve McClaren is sticking to what he believes is right and the result of the last game proved he is on the right road."

Hiddink's Russia side was much less experienced, he added.

He said: "They have to get used to tough games. Some already are but as a group they are not used to playing , like the English players are, very competitive games every three or four days."

Russia beat Macedonia 3-0 on Saturday despite having goalkeeper Vladimir Gabulov sent off.

Hiddink used four forwards on that occasion but will be more cautious at Wembley.

He said: "There will be a few changes but not many. The Macedonia game was very important for us and we had four very attacking players.

"We want to stick to our style against England but we will look for a balance as well.

"It is impossible to play against England with five or six attackers, who for me are also midfield players with the ability to penetrate a lot."

One man who is also keen to see Russia triumph is Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich, who was instrumental in Hiddink's appointment last year at a time when England had also been keen to recruit him.

The billionaire is believed to be part-funding the coach's wages and the pair are in regular contact.

Hiddink said: "Every now and then we have a short talk not just about the national team but about Russian football. They are brief but good contacts. He will wish the best for the Russian team."

The Independent writes:

Sam Wallace: McClaren stakes his future on Heskey intimidating Russians
Published: 12 September 2007

The Emile Heskey revival rolls on – and for Steve McClaren the future of England's Euro 2008 campaign is hitched to a Wigan striker who has scored five goals in 44 international games.

Heskey starts alongside Michael Owen against Russia tonight in a retro-forward line that carries the hopes of the current England manager as it once did that of his predecessor Sven Goran Eriksson.

A brave decision? Leaving out Peter Crouch, suspended for the Israel game on Saturday, would seem to chime with the old wisdom that you do not change a winning team. But when the team McClaren faces tonight are so different from the Israel team who offered scant resistance the question arises of whether Russia under Guus Hiddink will be quite so submissive against Heskey's muscular approach.

It is quite some change of heart that McClaren has made from barely three weeks ago, when he was not even considering Heskey for the friendly against Germany. From stopgap to first choice, the 29-year-old has found himself back in the England first XI on the basis of 90 minutes against Israel. Ninety minutes in which he blasted his one and only shot over the bar and played no significant role in any of England's three goals. Nice work if you can get it.

Perhaps the logic of sticking with the same XI who beat Israel was just too irresistible for McClaren once he lost Owen Hargreaves to injury on Monday night. Gareth Barry held his place in the centre of midfield and, as a result, it must have seemed simpler to keep the side intact.

What will England lose by leaving Crouch on the sidelines? He may not be as overtly physical as Heskey, but no one seriously believes that a Russian side coached by Hiddink will be intimidated by the Wigan man. England will miss the sureness of Crouch's touch and a much greater confidence to play balls in behind defences or spread possession wide. And by playing him as a substitute, the England manager stands to lose even more from a striker who has already spent much of the season on the bench.

Popular wisdom dictates that Crouch is an impact substitute, but that is wrong. His first two England goals against Uruguay and Hungary were scored when he came off the bench, but the subsequent 10 have all been scored when he started matches. Last season, Crouch scored 24 goals for Liverpool and England in the Community Shield, Premier League, Champions League, international friendlies and Euro 2008 qualifiers. All of them came in games he started.

Put simply, Crouch is in need of a manager who will show a little faith in him. Dropping him in favour of Alan Smith against Brazil in June was such a disaster that McClaren went straight back to Crouch for the Euro 2008 qualifier against Estonia five days later. Crouch obliged by leading the line, scoring a goal and helping to save England's season. Then he got booked and suspended for Saturday's Israel game. Such is the state of panic with England at the moment that whatever worked in the last game is grimly clung to in the hope that it will do the trick again.

Currently flavour of the month is Heskey who, despite the doubts, could be the salvation for English football and lead his side triumphantly to Austria and Switzerland next summer. But if he is the Messiah, then he has spent an awfully long time in the wilderness. If he was such a brilliant option, why has he languished outside the team for three years, largely forgotten by

McClaren until a moment of emergency?

For Crouch, whether he likes it or not, it is time yet again to prove himself to McClaren. Just as he almost had to do after McClaren's first game in charge against Greece, before which the England manager had provisionally picked Dean Ashton until the striker broke his ankle in training. It happened again when Crouch had to win his place back from Smith in June. In the time it has taken Crouch to score 12 goals for England, Wayne Rooney has scored one. Would there be any argument about Heskey keeping his place if it was Rooney coming back tonight?

For McClaren, in particular, the shadow of Hiddink falls across this game. When he glances across to the opposite dugout, the England manager will see a man who has won one European Cup, six Dutch titles and led two different nations to fourth place at the World Cup – one of them South Korea. Some record. The Dutchman was managing the Netherlands when

McClaren was first-team coach at Derby.

Given that Hiddink's name was higher than his own on the original shortlist to replace Eriksson, McClaren might have been forgiven for being slightly intimidated by his opposite number. But McClaren has never lacked belief in his right to be England manager and he dismissed the effect that Hiddink's reputation might have on the game.

"I think the players relate to players, they don't relate to managers," McClaren said. "They go out and look at their opponent. What we say is, 'Whoever you are against you have to win that battle'. Once they have crossed the white line they won't be thinking about what the [opposition] manager is doing or his reputation. They will be looking at the opposite number."
Brave words. Listening to McClaren over the last few months, it is clear that the man upon whom he relies the most is Steven Gerrard, who rescued him on that dark night against Andorra in March. It is a debt that McClaren will owe for ever and yesterday he declared that Gerrard will have "the freedom to be our inspiration" tonight. But even Gerrard will struggle to compensate if the Heskey-Owen partnership does not work out.

Unchanged melody A hit for England?

England are expected to field an unchanged team tonight for the first time in 39 matches, dating back more than three years. The last occasion was during Euro 2004 when Sven Goran Eriksson retained the starting XI who defeated Croatia 4-2 in the final group match.

The unchanged team survived only 27 minutes before Wayne Rooney was injured. Without him England lost on penalties to Portugal in the quarter-finals after a 2-2 draw.
England v Croatia & Portugal (June 2004): James; G Neville, Terry, Campbell, A Cole; Beckham, Gerrard, Lampard, Scholes; Rooney, Owen.


Terry wants England to be more arrogant
19 hours ago
LONDON (AFP) — John Terry has told his England team-mates to play with a touch of arrogance when they face Russia in their make-or-break Euro 2008 qualifier.
England captain Terry agrees with Steven Gerrard's claim that England's squad has enough talent to beat any team in the world.

But the Chelsea defender acknowledges that Steve McClaren's side have often been too timid when they should be dominating opponents.

Terry wants to see England back up his belief they are a superior team to Russia by taking the initiative from the start on Wednesday.

Wembley will be no place for faint hearts as England need to see off Guus Hiddink's side to stay in the race to next year's finals, so this is the perfect time for Terry and company to show they really believe in themselves.

Terry said: "I can totally understand where Stevie is coming from when you look around the dressing room.

"You see these guys playing week in and week out in the Champions League and at the top level, in the big competitions and they are playing very well and getting to the latter stages.

"If we can get that togetherness and arrogance it can be a massive thing for us. We saw that against Israel. We all got together and it needs to be a little bit more like that every single game.

"Maybe we have not had that in the past, but it is certainly something we are looking to build upon once we do get through the group and go on to the competition, to have that little bit of arrogance and really go that step further."

Second-placed Russia sit one point ahead of England in Group E and could leave the hosts' Euro 2008 hopes in tatters with a win.

They have the best defensive record in the entire European qualifying campaign, with just one goal conceded, but Terry is convinced England will rise to the challenge because big games bring the best out of them.

"The pressure of the vital games certainly does that for us," he said. "If we had not got the three points against Israel it would have been disaterous.

"We now come into this game against a Russia side who are very attacking, quick going forwards. It is going to be very tough.

"Once we get this one out of the way and hopefully with the three points, things will be looking good.

"It was the game plan to put Israel right on the back foot, not to give them anytime to play and we did not give them any chance to settle in.

"That will be the same again on Wednesday. Even when we had scored, we were still chasing them down and putting them under pressure, to get at them again."

John Terry:

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