The English Football Association's chairman Greg Dyke set a bold target this week for the country which has not triumphed in the international arena in almost 50 years to win the 2022 World Cup. For current manager Roy Hodgson, though, the focus is still very much on ensuring that his side merely make it to Brazil next year.
England are locked in a three-way battle with Montenegro and Ukraine for the one automatic qualifying place and one playoff berth to try and get to the 2014 World Cup. Much focus has understandably been put on England’s trip to Ukraine next Tuesday, but first, three points will be a requirement when Moldova visit Wembley on Friday.
Not for the first time, Hodgson’s already thin options have been diminished by a flurry of injuries. The squad is particularly bare up front with Wayne Rooney unavailable because of a nasty gash to his head and subsequently being joined on the sidelines by in-form Liverpool striker Daniel Sturridge. Glen Johnson, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Phil Jones are also among those ruled out. Hodgson attempted to see the positive in the opportunity the injuries present for those stepping into the side.
"They are very important players to lose, but when a player can't make it for one reason or another it's an opportunity for the man who has maybe been sitting back trying to take his place to come in and shine," Hodgson said.
One man who will again be given the chance to impress is Southampton striker Rickie Lambert. The 31-year-old Southampton man enjoyed a dream debut for his country last month when he scored the winner in a friendly against Scotland with his first touch. And Hodgson has already revealed his lineup for the Moldova match, which features Lambert leading the line.
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"I'm expecting [Kyle] Walker, Lambert, these kinds of players, to make it clear that they should be there, they deserve to be there and have the quality to be there,” Hodgson explained.
Moldova lost 5-0 to England in Chisinau at the start of qualifying a year ago but have shown of late that they could pose more of a test this time around. In their last three matches, Ion Caras’s side, ranked 123rd in the world, have secured an impressive draw with Poland and only suffered one-goal defeats against Ukraine and Montenegro.
D: Walker, Jagielka, Cahill, Cole
M: Gerrard, Lampard, Wilshere
F: Walcott, Lambert, Welbeck
D: Armas, Racu, Epureanu, Bulgaru
M: Patras, Dedov, Ionita, Gatcan, Suvorov
Prediction: England produced an impressively clinical performance to get an emphatic win in Moldova last year, but may have slightly more difficulty this time around. Moldova will undoubtedly put almost everyone back on the edge of their own area and challenge England to break them down. Missing Rooney, that test could initially be difficult to overcome. Jack Wilshere’s presence will be important due to his ability to beat a player and open up space. England should eventually get a fairly comfortable, if unspectacular, win.
England 3-0 Moldova
Where to watch: The World Cup qualifier will kick-off at 3 p.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by Fox Sports 1, with a delayed online stream available from 5 p.m. on Fox Soccer 2Go.