England look for boost to Euro campaign

England needs another improved performance at Estonia when European Championship qualifying continues on Wednesday.

updated: June 05, 2007 13:12 IST
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England needs another improved performance at Estonia when European Championship qualifying continues on Wednesday or its chances of reaching next year's tournament could fade further.

France has no such concerns when it hosts Georgia in another of the day's 19 games, but Italy is at Lithuania having already drawn against its lowly opponent in qualifying.

Most of the continent's major teams are in action, four days after the last round.

England could be as much as eight points off the lead if it slips in Tallinn. Croatia hosts Russia, and Israel is at Andorra in Group E's other games.

It should be confident though after recalled former captain David Beckham and a standout performance by Steven Gerrard helped England draw 1-1 on Friday in a friendly against Brazil. It improved upon its recent lackluster showings and was only denied victory when the five-time world champion equalized in the last minute.

Beckham back

Beckham should start on the right of midfield again at Estonia, with England needing a victory to stay in touch with the three teams above it.

Croatia leads after Saturday's 1-0 win over Estonia, which has lost all six of its matches without scoring, with Israel and Russia two points off the top.

England coach Steve McClaren was jeered at England's last three qualifying matches - a 2-0 loss at Croatia, a 0-0 draw at Israel, and an uninspiring 3-0 win at Andorra - and desperately wants a victory.

"We can go there on Wednesday, play well and end up drawing or even losing the game," captain John Terry said. "We need to win. Whatever kind of win it is, we will take it.

"We have not played well or got decent results in the last few qualifying games away from home, so we owe the traveling fans a good result."

McClaren may play Gerrard in a more attacking role against Estonia even though the Liverpool midfielder was man of the match against Brazil in a holding position. Peter Crouch is likely to replace Alan Smith up front, while Terry should recover from a tight hamstring to take his place in central defense.

Beckham set up Terry for his headed goal against Brazil, and his crosses and free kicks could prove crucial against a defense that has conceded 11 goals in six matches.

Russia stayed within two points of Croatia on Saturday with an easy 4-0 win over Andorra, but coach Guus Hiddink wants his team to be more ruthless.

"We could have scored more goals," Hiddink said. "I didn't like that we have created so many scoring chances but failed to convert them."

Russia and Croatia played to a 0-0 draw in their opening qualifier in September and Hiddink said a repeat in Zagreb would be a good result.

"They have been unbeatable at home for a long time," Hiddink said. "We are not going to Croatia to play for a draw, but to win there we'll have to play our best in attack."

Midfielder Diniyar Bilyaletdinov, who strained his leg in practice for the match against Andorra, will travel to Croatia in case he recovers.

Alexandr Kerzhakov is fit after his three-goal performance on Saturday, with his 54th-minute substitution an attempt to rest him.

With the top two teams from each group qualifying for the tournament in Austria and Switzerland, Italy is on course in Group B even after a disappointing 2-1 win at the Faeroe Islands on Saturday.

"We should have had more ball possession but the field was in bad shape and that didn't help us," midfielder Aimo Diana. "We thought it was going to be a romp and instead we risked a draw."

Italy needs to improve

Italy's qualifying campaign started with a 1-1 home draw against Lithuania, and the World Cup champion - second behind France - knows it needs to improve for the rematch.

Defender Gianluca Zambrotta and Massimo Ambrosini, who missed Saturday's game with minor injuries, trained Sunday and are set to return.

Italy has three players - Zambrotta, Fabio Cannavaro and Gennaro Gattuso - who will miss September's crucial qualifier with France if they get another yellow card against Lithuania.

France, which has 15 points to Italy's 13, likely will play Mickael Landreau instead of injured goalkeeper Gregory Coupet and may be without defender William Gallas because of a thigh strain.

Gallas, who played in Saturday's 2-0 win over Ukraine, could be replaced by Julien Escude.

Scotland, which is tied for third place with Ukraine on 12 points, is at the Faeroe Islands after a confidence-boosting 1-0 friendly win at Austria.

Three-time European champion Germany could make itself an overwhelming favorite to qualify from Group D if it beats Slovakia to go five points clear of the Czech Republic.

Germany has several players injured - including Michael Ballack and Lukas Podolski - but should still field nine players from last year's World Cup squad, as it did in Saturday's 6-0 win over San Marino.

Miroslav Klose, who was the leading scorer at the World Cup, will be retained ahead of Mario Gomez even though he hasn't scored for the team in six months.

The 21-year-old Gomez scored twice against San Marino in a half of play.

"We're not closing our eyes to the fact that Miro isn't in form, but we stand by him and give him absolute support," Germany coach Joachim Loew said.