England face battle to unseat Poles

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 08 October, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 08 October, 2005, 12:00am

Low goals look good bet in tense final clash

England should set up a super showdown with Poland by beating Austria today, but another victory on Wednesday night looks far from guaranteed.

Maximum points are required for England to qualify for the World Cup finals as group six winners; otherwise they might have to go into next month's play-offs. Three or four points might be enough because the top two runners-up from the eight groups also qualify automatically.The first priority for England is victory over Austria, and that should be no problem despite the absence of suspended Wayne Rooney. Austria were fortunate to get a point at home to England in their opening game and are in crisis following the dismissal of coach Hans Krankl. That came in the wake of last month's 0-0 in Azerbaijan - a level of form even worse than England's loss to Northern Ireland.

Poland will be a different matter, however. The group six leaders are up to 17th in the world rankings, having started the qualifying campaign 28th, and only three European teams have scored more goals in qualifying. They have scored in every game so far and could well continue that record against England - the biggest doubt being whether they can hold tight at the back, especially if they are cautious and invite England pressure.

England have scored two goals in nine of their 10 competitive home games under Sven Goran Eriksson (the other was a 4-0 win over Northern Ireland) and won eight out of 10. They have led at half-time in just two of those games, however, so consider a draw-England bet on the HaFu.

If Poland can keep it level at half-time, the pressure on England will be intense if they still require a win and they might not be up to the task given recent results. Low goals looks a good bet, with the draw good value, especially if that result suits both teams.

Group four is the most open, with four teams fighting for the top two places and all four holding some chance of finishing top. France's revival, which brought a vital 1-0 win in Ireland last month, probably gives them the edge for today's visit to leaders Switzerland, but this is a tricky match to assess.

On paper the French need to win, but they could afford to leave with a point in the knowledge that they will top the group if they win their final home match against Cyprus and Switzerland fail to beat Ireland. If Switzerland win in Dublin, France could still finish top with a big win over Cyprus.

Unless Israel score a hatful against the Faroes, two draws will put Switzerland into the play-offs, and they may prefer that scenario to all-out attack against France. With a draw suiting the Swiss, a low-goals draw looks the best bet.

Several more of today's big clashes are likely to be close, making the draw and low goals attractive bets. A draw in the Czech Republic will put Holland into the finals as group one winners, Denmark-Greece is a must-win for both in group two but neither makes a convincing case for victory, Spain could be held by Belgium in group seven, while the group eight crunch between Croatia and Sweden will be tight.

Best homes: Slovakia, England, Bulgaria.

Best aways: Romania, Serbia & Montenegro.

Low goals: Czech Rep v Holland, Denmark v Greece, Belgium v Spain, Croatia v Sweden.