An excellent performance by England, defensively and offensively, although they had Michael Owen and Ashley Cole to thank the most for this win.
Owen’s two first-half goals were capped by a rare Ferdinand finish as England weathered Russia’s late attacks to keep another clean sheet (Robinson’s mom must be proud) and go 2nd in their Euro 2008 qualifying group. On today’s evidence the return leg in Moscow will be extremely tough and England would be odds on to get a point from the game (I wouldn’t be surprised if they lost).
A home win against Croatia is a must now.
Half-time Update: England 2-0 Russia – easily the best performance by England this year, although to be fair Russia never should cause them much trouble at this level. The lack of width on the left flank cuts down on attacking options and Heskey is only taking up space, but with Owen in fine form and newcomers Barry and SWP increasingly influential, this is England’s game, despite Russia’s slick passing and movement.
England v Russia Preview
England will take on Russia on 12 September 2007 in the most important game of their Euro 2008 qualification. Beat Russia at home and take a point from them in Moscow next month, and England will be shoe-ins for qualification.
England dominated Israel comfortably on Saturday, but Russia are tactically astute and will hardly fall apart or sit back the way Israel did.
With Owen Hargreaves and Frank Lampard definitely out, Macca has Carrick and Barry to choose from for the second central midfield berth and it seems likely that Barry will be rewarded for his good performance against Israel with a starting berth against Russia. It’s hard on Carrick but to be fair he’s had his chances and he didn’t hold on to them when it counted. It’s back to United for him and if he starts ahead of a possibly injured Hargreaves against Everton on the weekend he’ll have another chance to get his game back on.
With the rest of the team expected to carry over from Saturday, the only other question is the toss-up between Heskey and Crouch. This isn’t a choice, IMO – start Heskey and then bring Crouchie on as a sub with 35-30 mins left in the game. This works only if Heskey batters the crap out of the opposition defenders because with Crouch it’s a good chance that he’ll get booked and frustrated by a tight defence.
I’d still like to see England play down on the big man – little man combination and go for all-out pace up front, using Defoe / Young to partner Owen and have Young / Downing on the left, with both Joe Cole and Peter Crouch on the bench. OR you could reverse this, start with Cole and Crouch and then attack with pace in 30 mins to go when the opposition defence is tiring. In either case, we’ve got a very talented group of players waiting on the wings and it’s not as if Heskey is going to score a hattrick or Cole is going to use the width on the left to England’s benefit.
Thanks to his lack of action, Paul Robinson stays on as England keeper. Tough luck for Carson. If England are to progress to the Euro 2008 finals, they’ll need to win the rest of their games (or at least avoid defeat) and that means Robinson will play better than expected and keep his spot for Switzerland and Austria. If he bungles up, England are also out.
P Neville and A Smith – both ex Man Utd players and two players I love for their commitment to the cause – shouldn’t be in this squad.
Goalkeepers: P Robinson, D James, S Carson
Defenders: M Richards, W Brown, R Ferdinand, J Terry, A Cole, J Lescott, P Neville, N Shorey
Midfielders: D Bentley, S Gerrard, F Lampard, J Cole, S Wright-Phillips, M Carrick, G Barry, S Downing, O Hargreaves
Strikers: A Smith, M Owen, P Crouch, A Johnson, J Defoe, A Young, E Heskey