Carlos Alberto faces tough job

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src=' ' class='caption'> Even without David Beckham, England could be halfway to the 2006 World Cup finals on Wednesday.

updated: February 25, 2007 10:09 IST
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Even without David Beckham, England could be halfway to the 2006 World Cup finals on Wednesday. But France, Italy and Portugal still have a lot of work to do after unexpectedly dropping points in Saturday's qualifying games. England goes to Azerbaijan seeking its third Group 6 victory in a row, but captain Beckham won't make the long trip. He will be on his way to Madrid after picking up a suspension in Saturday's 2-0 victory over Wales and also breaking a rib. The Real Madrid star scored a spectacular second goal with a bending 25-meters shot but walked off in pain with a cracked rib and a booking after two clashes with Wales defender Ben Thatcher. With teenage striker Wayne Rooney in top form, England should still have too much talent for Azerbaijan, which has two points from three games having drawn with Wales and Northern Ireland. England faces Azerbaijan for the first time but comes up against a familiar face from 34 years ago. The Azeris are coached by Carlos Alberto, captain of Brazil's 1970 World Cup winning team, which had beaten England 1-0 on the way to its memorable triumph in Mexico. The former defender, who scored arguably the greatest ever World Cup goal in the 4-1 beating of Italy in the 1970 final, said England also would be the favorite on Wednesday and he feared that Rooney would cause major problems to his defenders. "Just to play against England is a problem," Alberto said. "We know that this young boy is a very good player. I saw many games in Euro 2004 and now he plays for Manchester United. There are two or three of our players will have to take care of him." England's stars will be confident of gaining three points in Baku to make it 10 points from four games and hope that its neighbors, Wales and Northern Ireland, to do them a favour. Wales hosts second-place Poland, which has six points, and last-place Northern Ireland welcomes Austria, which has four. While England has picked up the pace after an opening game draw with the Austrians, other contenders have stalled. Although 1998 champion France is unbeaten, it has drawn two of its three games, both at home without scoring a goal. Its only victory was at the Faeroe Islands 2-0. Saturday's 0-0 draw with Ireland at Stade de France meant that striker Thierry Henry has scored just twice in 12 games for "Les Bleus," and some of yesterday's papers suggested the Arsenal player might even be dropped. Three-time champion Italy lost at neighbouring Slovenia 1-0 having shown signs it was going to take a firm hold of Group 5. "I'm bitter, upset, displeased," coach Marcello Lippi said after his team's first competitive loss under his guidance. Lippi's team, which lost the standings lead to the Slovenes, hopes to bounce back with a victory over third-place Belarus in Parma. The Belarussians come off a 4-0 beating of last-place Moldova. (AP)