Soccer / Euro 2008 Qualification / England, Russia vie for second spot
England will host Russia at Wembley Stadium tonight in front of 90,000 fans, as the two powerhouses vie for second place in Euro 2008 Qualifying Group E behind Croatia, which is a near shoo-in to advance to next year's finals in Austria and Switzerland.
Israel helped build England's self-confidence and raised the country's morale with its anemic 3-0 loss Saturday. Still, the English don't consider that match an indication of their potential against a strong Russia coached by one of the best in the world.
Guus Hiddink made major headlines in the British press this week, and it was hard to miss the desire to see him replace English coach Steve McClaren.
Lacking injured Owen Hargreaves and Frank Lampard, the burden of running the game will fall once again on Steven Gerrard and Gareth Barry.
The main question for the English squad is who will play next to Michael Owen: Emile Heskey did play well against Israel, but Liverpool striker Peter Crouch, who has been scoring well lately, is also available.
Hiddink complimented Crouch this week, saying, "I don't know a national team that can rest while playing him," but added the center of Russia's defense can manage with England's style of play. Russia will be hurting from the injury of Nuremberg striker Ivan Saenko, but will replace him with CSKA Moscow's attacking midfielder, Yuri Zhirkov.
The statistic most concerning England is the one goal Russia has conceded during the qualifiers, to Israeli player Amit Ben Shushan.
In other Group E action, Croatia will play Andorra, and Estonia will take on Macedonia.