England have received a welcome boost, France have injury setbacks while Scotland manager Alex McLeish claimed his team were up against it to go through in the run-up to Wednesday night’s Euro 2008 qualifiers.
England negotiate a tricky tie on an artificial pitch in Russia, France host Lithuania after a horrendous journey to the Faroe Islands and Scotland have an important trip to Georgia as they look to consolidate their Group B lead.
With the qualifying competition for the finals in Austria and Switzerland finishing on November 21, each match is like a cup final for those teams on the verge of sealing their berth.
England skipper John Terry looks set to play in Russia after flying to Moscow with the rest of the squad on Monday.
The Chelsea centre back, who missed Saturday’s 3-0 win over Estonia with a knee injury, returned to training on Monday morning and was given a green light to travel for a match where victory would seal England’s place in next year’s finals.
An England spokesperson said Terry had, ”come through the session with no problems. He will continue to be monitored by the England medical staff and assessed for any reaction.”
A draw would leave them needing a point from their final qualifier, at home to Croatia next month, while a defeat would leave Russia as favourites to qualify along with the Croatians from Group E.
Manager Steve McClaren, meanwhile, vowed there would be no excuses for England if they fail the adapt to the synthetic surface at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium.
Having already put three goals past Guus Hiddink’s side on their previous encounter last month and having now extended their winning streak in competitive combat to five games, which have yielded 15 goals including, finally, one for Wayne Rooney, England can approach their challenge in confident mood.
McClaren said: ”The pitch is not an issue. We have looked at research extending over 100 matches and there is no difference to a grass pitch at all. The game is no different.
”The loss of possession is the same, there are the same number of headers and tackles and it doesn’t bounce high. It is a flat pitch and there is absolutely no excuse.”
England defender Ashley Cole, however, was on Sunday ruled out of the Russia game after he was carried off in a stretcher following a collision with Estonia forward Kaimar Saag on the weekend.
Striker Nicolas Anelka and defender Julien Escude will both miss France’s match against Lithuania in Nantes because of injuries, team officials announced on Monday.
Anelka sustained a thigh injury in Saturday’s 6-0 win over the Faroe Islands and he will head back to his English Premier League side Bolton for treatment.
Escude, who was injured before the game against the Faroes, has failed to recover and will play no part in the squad.
France need to win their final two games against Lithuania and away to Ukraine to be sure of qualifying for the finals.
As for Scotland, Saturday’s 3-1 victory over Ukraine in Glasgow, which kept them a point ahead of World Cup winners Italy and two in front of defeated finalists France, came at a high price.
Lee McCulloch and Garry O’Connor picked up bookings, which mean they are suspended for the Georgia match, while injuries to Scott Brown and Alan Hutton ruled the Celtic midfielder and Rangers fullback out too.
McLeish believes these losses could prove crucial to his side’s Euro 2008 dreams.
The Scotland boss said: ”The win over Ukraine came at a high cost, but this is what happens when you are a small nation.
”It is inevitable that you will pick up suspensions and injuries when you play a number of games in a campaign and it makes our task that little bit tougher.
”We are not in a particularly strong position now with the injuries and suspensions we have. We are neck and neck with the top two teams in the world so it’s going to be very hard for us.
”Italy and France are still the favourites to qualify but we can still do it and will give everything to try and make it.”
The 2002 World Cup semifinalists, Turkey, have a home clash against arch-rivals and reigning European champions Greece in Istanbul in a top-of-the-table Group C clash. Greece lead the pool by four points from Turkey, who will surely be highly motivated for victory to keep them on course.
Other top nations in action include The Netherlands, who host Slovenia in Group G, already-qualified Germany, who entertain the Czech Republic in Munich from Group D, and Portugal, who make the long trip to Kazakhstan in Group A. — Sapa-AFP