Alan Smith, Newcastleâ€™s experienced utility player, says that he and his England team-mates are ready to seize on any slip-up by Russia against Israel in Tel Aviv on Saturday.
A win for Russia could potentially mean that England’s hopes of reaching the European finals next summer could be over.
Alan Smith – should make the bench for England game tonight in Austria
England play a friendly against Austria in Vienna tonight, and Michael Owen will be expected to start up front, with Smith probably on the bench. The England players will then watch the Tel Aviv fixture together tomorrow. Wish we were a fly on the wall for that one.
Englandâ€™s final qualifying game is next Wednesday against Croatia at Wembley. Croatia currently head Group C and are unbeaten in group play, but England have won their three Wembley qualifiers 3-0, and Smith says he and his team-mates can finish the job off if they are given the chance.
The 27-year-old, born in Rothwell, Leeds, told the Shields Gazette yesterday:
“We hope it’s a big game, anyway, because it could be over by the time we play Croatia.â€ “Everyone’s talking about Russia and Israel, but Croatia have got to go to Macedonia, and that’ll be a difficult game for them.â€
“There’s not a lot we can do. All we can do is approach it in the same way we approach every game, and keep our fingers crossed that we’ll still be in by the time it comes round next Wednesday night.â€
“We’re just hoping we’re in with a chance and it’s in our hands. We’ve got to be positive, and I’m sure if it comes down to that game, then we’ll win.
“We’ve got a great home record, and against good teams as well. We got beat off Germany, but haven’t looked back since then. If it comes down to us against Croatia, then we’re in a great position.”
Smith was at the last international break, but did not make the bench for the Estonia and Russia fixtures because of a slight knee injury, for which he was receiving treatment.
Here’s the current standings in Group E:
P W D L GF GA GD Points Croatia 10 8 2 0 25 4 21 26 England 11 7 2 2 22 4 18 23 Russia 10 6 3 1 16 5 11 21 Israel 10 5 2 3 17 11 6 17 FYR Macedonia 10 3 2 5 10 11 -1 11 Estonia 11 1 1 9 3 21 -18 4 Andorra 10 0 0 10 2 39 -37 0
Certainly it’s not as easy as everybody thinks for Russia because they really need to win against Israel, and that could be tough. A draw will leave it wide open, but in that case a win for England against Croatia will see them qualify. But a lot of this depends on the result tomorrow, and England have to hope for at least a draw between Israel and Russia. Here are the important games still to play in the group:
17 Nov: Israel v Russia (1800 GMT)
17 Nov: Macedonia v Croatia (1900 GMT)
21 Nov: England v Croatia (2000 GMT)
21 Nov: Andorra v Russia (2000 GMT)
The Austria England game kicks off at 2000 GMT tonight.