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PUBLISHED : Saturday, 13 October, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 13 October, 2007, 12:00am

England boss Steve McClaren faces the dilemma of whether to stick or twist for this week's crucial Euro 2008 double-header against Estonia and Russia.

Changes were forced upon McClaren in last month's home qualifiers against Israel and Russia, but outstanding contributions from Gareth Barry and Shaun Wright-Phillips will not make it easy for the England coach to switch back to his big-name players now that some of them are available again.

Barry's partnership with Steven Gerrard, in particular, looked well balanced, and there is a strong case for sticking with that pair in preference to bringing back Frank Lampard in Barry's place.

One pairing that seems certain to be reunited is Michael Owen and Wayne Rooney in attack but, despite their individual talents, they still have something to prove as a combination.

This will be the first time they have started together since last year's World Cup, but in six competitive internationals together since Euro 2004 the partnership has produced just two goals, both for Owen.

In fact, since his stunning displays at Euro 2004, Rooney hasn't scored in a competitive international.

McClaren, then, will be pinning most hopes on Owen continuing the form that has seen him score in all three qualifiers since his return from injury.

Those matches have included the reverse fixtures against Estonia and Russia, and Owen will be a major fancy to score first against Estonia in particular.

Finding an edge on the Estonia match is difficult, with the England win obviously very short, along with related bets such as the England win-win on the HaFu. Over 3.5 goals on the HiLo is odds-against, but both that bet and England at -2 on the handicap carry risk as England are likely to have to do all the scoring.

England have the joint-best defence across the seven qualifying groups, having conceded only the two goals away to Croatia, while Estonia have failed to score in all seven games against the top four teams in group E.

In 15 home qualifiers under Sven Goran Eriksson and now his former assistant McClaren, England have beaten a -2 handicap only four times, though three of those have been in McClaren's short reign, including last month's two 3-0 wins.

Nevertheless the draw on the handicap is a live possibility, while more bases can be covered by splitting stakes on two selected scorelines.

It is logical that both should include Estonia nil, and the suggestion is to go for 2-0 and 3-0, which have come up in seven of the 15 home qualifiers under Eriksson and McClaren.

The only danger to an England clean sheet is that first-choice defenders John Terry, Rio Ferdinand and Ashley Cole, who would all miss the Russia match if booked against Estonia, were considered likely to sit out tonight's match, even before Terry suffered a knee injury in training.

Joe Cole is also on a yellow card and his probable omission reduces England's attacking options, which is another factor that could keep the score down.

So, too, might substitutions of key players such as Owen if England have the game safe at 2-0.

As usual, attractive betting propositions are thin on the ground this weekend, with only seven of the Euro 2008 qualifiers having a favourite priced above 1.60.

Three teams, however, stand out on the handicap. The first are Wales, with star striker Craig Bellamy pronounced fit to play in Cyprus.

Bellamy's pace caused untold problems for the Slovakia defence in Wales' 5-2 away win in their last match, and the Cyprus defence is likely to find him too hot to handle.

The Netherlands, who share with England the distinction of having the meanest defence in Euro 2008 qualifying, will be hard to beat in Romania.

Marco van Basten's Dutch team have attracted criticism for being more efficient than elegant, but they have lost only once in 24 competitive internationals (against Portugal in last year's World Cup finals), winning 18.

The wins include two (plus one draw) in three qualifiers against Romania, who have yet to score against Van Basten's team. Romania are bedevilled by injury problems, which only adds to the difficulty of their task.

The draw cannot be ruled out and is well worth considering, as that result would suit both teams, putting them both three points clear of nearest rivals Bulgaria with three matches to play.

The other handicap bet is Spain, who go to Denmark for a crucial clash in group F. Denmark must win, which should play into the hands of Spain, who have the knack of coming good when the chips are down in qualifying campaigns, even if their earlier form has been mixed.

For a straight win bet, Iceland appeal at home to Latvia, who have yet to score on the road in this qualifying campaign, even though one of their matches was in Liechtenstein.

The best bet on the HiLo is to go low in Scotland v Ukraine, as between them they have had only one match out of seven with more than two goals against the top four teams in group B.

Off target

Competitive internationals in which Wayne Rooney has failed to score since Euro 2004: 15

Rock solid

Goals conceded by England in Euro 2008 qualifying, joint-lowest with the Netherlands: 2

Dutch courage

The Netherlands' wins in 20 qualifiers since Marco van Basten took charge in 2004, with no defeats: 16

German efficiency

Years since Germany's last defeat in an away qualifier, with 12 wins out of 17 since. Germany are 1.85 to win: 9

FORM FACT: England have won 3-0 in all of their last four qualifiers. Before that they had scored three or more in only two out of 20 competitive matches since Euro 2004

Too hot to handle

The Euro 2008 qualifiers that have a favourite priced above odds of 1.60: 7

SHORTLIST: Spain, Netherlands, Wales, Iceland. Last week You Bet had three winning bets from four selections