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Injury-hit England look too strong for Moldova

Injury-hit England look too strong for Moldova

LONDON (Reuters) – England, hit by injuries to key players, are still favourites to start their World Cup qualifying campaign with a win against Moldova in Chisinau on Friday.

England’s manager Roy Hodgson (R) talks with Frank Lampard (C) and Gary Cahill during a soccer training session in London Colney, north of London, September 3, 2012. England will play their World Cup qualifier match against Moldova on Friday. REUTERS/Darren Staples

Defender Ashley Cole, who would have won his 99th England cap on Friday, and striker Andy Carroll were the latest players to withdraw from the squad after being injured at the weekend, and while Cole should return for next Tuesday’s game against Ukraine at Wembley, Carroll is likely to be out for six weeks.

Other absentees include striker Wayne Rooney and midfielder Scott Parker, but England will go into the Group H match in good spirits following their 2-1 friendly win over Italy in Berne last month.

Apart from losing on a penalty shoot-out to Italy in the quarter-finals of Euro 2012 in June, England manager Roy Hodgson is unbeaten in seven matches over 90 minutes since taking over on May 1.

And with England improbably ranked third in FIFA’s world rankings, compared to Moldova’s 141st, anything other than an England win will be a major surprise.

In an online debate with fans on Tuesday night, the coach was asked whether he had had the chance to pick his ideal starting line-up yet because of so many injuries.

Hodgson, 65, said: “Maybe not, we’ve been hampered by injuries to very important players. We lost Gareth Barry and Frank Lampard, for example, before the Euros, and Wayne Rooney wasn’t available for the first couple of games.

“In the Italian game I decided to leave out one or two of the obvious senior players who I thought would have been important during the qualifiers.

“I don’t think that I’ve been able to pick an ideal team as there have always been some important players missing.”

Even with their injuries, England should repeat their wins over Moldova in the qualifiers for the 1998 World Cup, when England won 3-0 in Moldova in September 1996 and 4-0 at Wembley a year later.

Moldova have never qualified for the World Cup and have won only two of the 38 qualifiers they have played. They have not won any of their past 13 over the past seven years.

Their record in the recent qualifying competition for the European Championship was not much better: they won three and lost seven of their 10 games, but two of those wins were against San Marino and the other a 2-0 victory over Finland.

Moldovan coach Ion Caras told the website on Wednesday: “We do have confidence in our strength and our chance — however, this is slimmer than England’s.”

San Marino, Poland, Ukraine and Montenegro complete the make-up of Group H.

Although Rooney and Carroll are out of the side, England have plenty of attacking options.

Jermain Defoe, who should make his 50th appearance for England, should lead the line, with either Daniel Sturridge, Danny Welbeck or Theo Walcott in support.

Defoe came on as a substitute and scored the winner in England’s 2-1 victory over Italy in Berne, his 16th goal for his country.

Euro failure no longer on Germany’s minds – Loew

Euro failure no longer on Germany’s minds – Loew

BERLIN (Reuters) – Germany’s summer of footballing failure will not be preying on their minds as they kick off their World Cup qualifying campaign on Friday, coach Joachim Loew has promised.

The Germans have been given a gentle start, with a home match against the Faroe Islands in Hanover, but even so are likely to be jittery after a traumatic four months.

Germany’s coach Joachim Loew reacts during their friendly soccer match against Argentina in Frankfurt August 15, 2012. REUTERS/Alex Domanski

After Friday it gets more difficult, with a trip to neighbours Austria on Tuesday.

“The players have put their disappointments behind them and there is real hunger for success,” Loew said. “That goes for the coaching staff as well.”

Germany’s troubles began when Bayern Munich lost the Champions League final to Chelsea in their own Allianz Arena, going down on penalties after dominating the game.

The national side then lost to Italy in the Euro 2012 semi-finals, continuing a run of near misses that include second place at the 2002 World Cup, third in 2006, third in 2010, and runners-up at Euro 2008.

Loew’s team was also outclassed by a Lionel Messi-inspired Argentina, losing 3-1 at home in a friendly in August.

Germany won all 10 games on their way to Euro 2012 but Loew has warned that a group also containing Sweden, Austria and Ireland, and involving a long trip to Kazakhstan, could pose more difficulties.

“We completed the last qualifies in a rousing manner,” Loew said. “This time it will be more difficult, the group is very even. There won’t be any pushovers.

“We have to improve when we don’t have the ball. I place value on the way we develop going forward, but we must be more active off the ball and make sure we don’t give our opponents any time.”

Loew said that not even the Faroe Islands, who have 12 of their 19-man squad based locally, would be easy.

“The Faroes have only lost recently by narrow margins, one-or two-goal margins. Italy only beat them by a goal,” he said. “They are certainly not cannon-fodder.”

Germany are missing striker Mario Gomez, who is recovering from an ankle operation, and Bastian Schweinsteiger, who is not match fit.

France know they must make good start against Finns

France know they must make good start against Finns

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) – New France football coach Didier Deschamps will be thrown in at the deep end when his side open their World Cup qualifying campaign with a tricky game in Finland on Friday.

France’s national soccer team coach Didier Deschamps (R) speaks to goalkeepers Mickael Landreau (L) and Steve Mandanda (C) during a training session at Clairefontaine, near Paris, September 5, 2012. France team gathers at their training camp in preparation for their Brazil 2014 World Cup qualifying play off against Finland in Helsinki on September 7, 2012. REUTERS/Charles Platiau

Drawn in Group I with a Spain side who comfortably beat them in the quarter-finals of Euro 2012, France have no room for slip-ups against Finland, Belarus or Georgia.

“Our goal is very clear: we want to qualify for the World Cup and the game in Finland is the first step. We have to focus on Finland only,” Deschamps told reporters.

“We want to qualify. We want to top the group but it is no use talking about Spain. First, we have to pass the two first tests,” he added, referring to the ties in Finland and against Belarus on Tuesday at the Stade de France.

“We want to have six points after the Belarus game. In a five-team group, you can’t afford to lose points on your way. Now we focus on taking three in Finland.”

Though they are overwhelming favourites to win in Helsinki, the French will have to overcome a Finnish side capable of playing some very tidy football.

In a group featuring Netherlands, Sweden and Hungary, the Finns collected a respectable 10 points in their Euro 2012 qualifying campaign and, a 5-0 thrashing by Sweden aside, they stood up well against their more illustrious opponents.

“This team does not play defensively at all. They are not just waiting for you at the back, they are able to create, to really play,” Deschamps said.

“It’s a good team with experienced players, most of them not playing in the Finnish league.”

Finland’s fleet-footed playmaker Alexei Eremenko said his side had nothing to fear from the French.

“For the players, it’s a good opportunity. We showed a few years ago against Germany that we are able to play against the top teams,” Eremenko told a news conference on Wednesday.

“We have good guys that can cause problems for France. If the game remains tight and we hit them on the counter-attack, we have the potential.”

Deschamps could revamp his back four to add experience in the starting line-up with Laurent Koscielny and Adil Rami likely to replace Mamadou Sakho and Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, who were paired together in the August friendly against Uruguay.

Down the line, Deschamps will also have to deal with uncertainty following goalkeeper and captain Hugo Lloris’s move to Premier League side Tottenham Hotspur.

Spurs coach Andreas Villas Boas has said the France keeper is not guaranteed a starting spot ahead of 41-year-old American Brad Friedel.

“I have no problem at the moment. He’s not the number two (at Spurs) since he was not eligible to play last weekend. If he becomes a substitute, then we’ll see,” Deschamps said. (Additional reporting by Gregory Blachier in Paris; Editing by Clare Fallon)