After months of real uncertainty and voices of doom, England’s qualification for Euro 2008 looks ever more likely now after the three lions cruised past Estonia 3-0 at Wembley on Saturday.
Steve McClaren can sleep that bit easier than when England succumbed lamely 2-0 in Croatia a year ago, only days after tying the mighty Macedonia 0-0 at home.
First-half strikes from Shaun-Wright Phillips, Wayne Rooney and an own goal by Estonia’s Taavi Rahn sent England into a 3-0 lead with 33 minutes on the clock and the contest was as good as over.
The pre-match atmosphere was far from tense. Confidence in English fans was high following the Wembley win over Russia in September and the media were far more interested in the England rugby team’s World Cup semifinal against France in Paris that night than the football team’s clash with Estonia.
McClaren’s men profited from being out of the spotlight for once and looked relaxed as they eased into a comfortable lead in the first half before turning on the auto-pilot.
Steven Gerrard and Joe Cole spurned chances to extend England’s lead in the second half while the visitors failed to create any genuine opportunities to reduce the deficit.
The real talking points emerging from the game concerned McClaren’s team selection and England’s chances of pulling off a win on the artificial surface in Russia on Wednesday.
Portsmouth’s Sol Campbell donned an England shirt for the first time in 16 months and performed creditably, but former Arsenal teammate Ashley Cole was worryingly stretchered off just after the second half began and will be on the sidelines in Moscow.
Everton’s Phil Neville should replace him then as he did on Saturday, although Chelsea colleague John Terry, Bandar Togel Hongkong is still hopeful of returning from injury in time for the big game in Russia.
The Wembley crowd of 86,655 also responded negatively to the insertion of Frank Lampard in the 70th minute in place of Michael Owen.
There was no call for such boorishness. McClaren had already done the right and popular thing in picking in the in-form Aston Villa man Gareth Barry from the start ahead of Lampard, whose displays for his country have, in the unanimous opinion, left a lot to be desired.
In addition, Owen was due for replacement on the day after struggling to spring the offside trap set by the Estonian backline, and Lampard was the logical replacement as an advanced and attacking midfielder.
England are now five points clear of third-place Russia in Group E with two games remaining, well aware a win in Moscow on Wednesday would guarantee them second place behind the Croats and a place in the finals.
Russia were well beaten 0-3 by England at Wembley in September and will be itching for revenge. The Field Turf surface at the Luzhniki Stadium will give Guus Hiddink’s team a slight advantage, but not as much as the expected sell out crowd of over 84,000 could.
Croatia kept up the pressure on the two nations just below them with a 1-0 win over Israel in Zagreb. The Croats, three points ahead of England, travel to Macedonia on Wednesday before concluding their campaign at Wembley on the 21st of Novermber.
Russia, with a game in hand, have still to travel to Israel and Andorra, and are well aware that a win over England on Wednesday will put them in the driving seat for second place and a ticket to the finals.