Monday, November 19, 2007

Euro 2008 qualifiers: England to qualify after all

Euro 2008 qualifiers: England to qualify after all.
European qualifiers

Greatest day for English soccer. And England did not even play.

Ozren Podnar reports...

What a wonderful Saturday for English soccer! England did not play, though, but Israel did, and Macedonia too. Not only one result went England's way on that glorious day, but two! Israel achieved the unimaginable feat of beating Russia by 2-1, when even a draw seemed unassailable; an hour later, an unbeaten Croatia finally succumbed to lowly Macedonia, who so rarely win a game at home (four in the last seven years, to be precise).

Any of these unlikely scores would have saved the Three Lions from the instant ignominy of elimination from the forthcoming Euros. In the end, both results came out just as if Steve McClaren himself had designed them.

McClaren has been subject to thousands of abusive articles stemming from his less than brilliant performance as England coach, but the stick he's got may eventually prove quite unjustified. It turns out that the despised and reviled team coached by an apparently inept manager need just a draw at home on Wednesday to qualify.
What's more, they can actually win their qualifying group, if they defeat Croatia by 2-0 or three goals' difference at Wembley. How's that for a failure?

McClaren "not content with a draw"
Offered a lifeline by an unfancied third party in the shape of Israel, McClaren plans to take full advantage of this new situation and prove that England have deserved to qualify on their own merits. Thus his team will not attempt to snatch a meager point against Croatia, but will go for an outright win.

"It's not in England's nature to go and play for a draw," McClaren said, according to AFP.
"We're there, we're in the driving seat. It's up to us to make sure we finish the job off.
"Whatever the formation is going to be, we have to be positive and go out to win the game.
"That is what we've been doing in the second half of the campaign. That has got us results and we must continue that.
"That's how we are going to get a result on Wednesday. But we must get the balance because ultimately we know a clean sheet will get us through."

It is extremely fortunate that Croatia have already mathematically secured their qualification, incidentally for the fourth consecutive major event, so that their squad will be optimally relaxed at Wembley. For Croatia is not Israel. The Slavs are so happy they have qualified for the European Championship that they will go to London relaxed and without the competive edge that characterized them throughout the campaign.

England, have no fear
The relaxation was obvious in the second half of the Macedonia game: after learning during the half-time interval that Israel had done the job for them, the players returned to the muddy Skopje pitch with the idea of going through the motions. Between the 70th and the 80th minute, the Croat defense looked nothing like the usually ruthlessly efficient machine that had kept a clean sheet in eight of the ten previous games. The result of such an approach was the first loss in a qualifying game in 50 months, the first-ever defeat against another ex-Yugoslav team after 19 positive scores and the first-ever defeat in Slaven Bilic's era.

After losing in Tel-Aviv, the Russian coach Guus Hiddink said that he expected the Croats to fight at Wembley just as hard as the Israelis had against his squad.
"Bilic's team has the qualities to defeat England and enable us to qualify after all," said the Dutchman. The odds of that happening are extremely low.

The Croats may have a clever and ambitious coach in Slaven Bilic and good individual players, but it is not in their nature to over-exert themselves if the result does not matter to them. The most that Croatia will aim for will be a draw or a minimal loss which would enable them to finish the competition as the group champions. And such an approach may well delight Steve McClaren and his depleted squad. Euro2008 is now just inches away.

1 comment:

Андрей said...

Cratia and croats thank you for EURO-2008!!! :) bravoja!!!

from Russia with love :)