Gerrard way of talented Ukraine

11 September 2012 10:56

Steven Gerrard has urged England to give Ukraine the respect they deserve ahead of Tuesday’s World Cup qualifier at Wembley.

The two countries met in the group stages of Euro 2012 in the summer, with England edging to a narrow 1-0 win.

Despite Wayne Rooney’s winner, Gerrard warned Ukraine are far too good a side to disregard as England look to impress again following Friday’s 5-0 win in Moldova.

He told the Daily Mirror: “There were times in the Euros when we gave them too much respect and stood off them and they had a few dangerous opportunities to score. Over the 90 minutes, they could feel hard done by not to have got at least a point.

“The difference for this game is we didn’t know too much about Moldova before that game. We performed really well, but this game will be a bigger and tougher test.

“If you stand off them (Ukraine) and give them too much respect, they have players who can hurt us. We need to be on it against them.

“But we won the game in the Euros, did what we needed to do, and hopefully we can get the same outcome.

“They have got our respect. They are a dangerous team. If you show them too much respect, they can hurt you.

“We were strong defensively against them in the summer and we got the job done. They will have a respect for us as well,” he added.

Both Gerrard and left-back Ashley Cole are close to joining England’s exclusive club of ‘Centurions’. Gerrard is in line to win his 98th cap for England if he features against Ukraine after making his debut against the Eastern Europeans as a fresh-faced 19-year-old, 12 years ago.

Although anticipating his 100th cap, the Liverpool captain insists it is more about getting another three points en route to World Cup qualification.

“It’s a dream come true when you get your first cap at Wembley. 100 caps would be a nice touch, for both me and Ashley,” he added.

“The important focus is to get to the World Cup – individual achievements are always nice along the way but I’m more interested in the points against Ukraine.”

Boateng closes in on Milan return

11 September 2012 09:55

AC Milan attacking midfielder Kevin-Prince Boateng has returned to full training.

Boateng broke his hand earlier this month and was expected to be out of action for up to three weeks after undergoing surgery.

But Milan coach Massimiliano Allegri will be buoyed by the encouraging news and is expected to consider Boateng for Saturday’s Serie A home match against Atalanta.

The 25-year-old midfielder has featured in both of the club’s Serie A games this season, without finding the net.

Milan currently are joint seventh on the table with three points from two matches.

World Cup qualifying preview: England v Ukraine

11 September 2012 08:40

After brushing aside Moldova, England’s qualifying campaign for the 2014 World Cup begins in earnest with the visit of Ukraine on Tuesday.

Roy Hodgson’s England made a flying start in their bid to reach the next FIFA showcase in Brazil, as they cruised to a 5-0 win over minnows Moldova on Friday.

Frank Lampard netted twice, his first goal from the penalty spot in just the third minute of the match, while Jermain Defoe, James Milner and Leighton Baines also scored, the latter two claiming their first strikes at international level.

The hosts proved no match for their heavyweight guests at the Zimbru Stadium, Chisinau, but Ukraine are unlikely to prove similar pushovers.

England were outplayed for the majority of their Euro 2012 Group D match against Ukraine in June, although Hodgson’s men ultimately prevailed 1-0 thanks to a Wayne Rooney goal.

The tournament co-hosts enjoyed the bulk of possession at the Donbass Arena, Donetsk, and were denied a legitimate goal as the referee and his assistants failed to see a Marko Devic effort had crossed the line before John Terry cleared.

Following that injustice, Ukraine are likely to be on a revenge mission when they arrive at Wembley Stadium this week.

Oleg Blokhin’s team will be without the retired Andriy Shevchenko, while England are missing both Rooney and Terry through injury.

Terry’s Chelsea team-mate Ashley Cole is also out, meaning Baines will continue to deputize at left-back.

Another Chelsea defender, Gary Cahill, could come in for Terry at centre-back, although Everton’s Phil Jagielka is a candidate to partner former club colleague Joleon Lescott, now at Manchester City.

Sunderland winger Adam Johnson is another player to be sidelined, meaning Hodgson will either keep faith with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in a wide role, or perhaps opt for his more experienced Arsenal team-mate Theo Walcott.

The match at Wembley will be Ukraine’s first of the qualifying campaign, they were held to a 0-0 draw in an international friendly against the Czech Republic in their most recent outing last month.

World Cup qualifying wrap preview: Messi targets Peru

11 September 2012 08:39

Argentina will look to consolidate top place in FIFA World Cup qualifying when they travel to Lima to face Peru on Tuesday.

Following Friday’s 3-1 home victory over Paraguay in CONMEBOL division, Alejandro Sabella’s side top the South American section of qualifying on 13 points from six matches, one clear of Chile and Ecuador.

Barcelona star Lionel Messi iced his starring display against Paraguay with a sublime free-kick, and stopping the diminutive attacker will be at the forefront of Peru’s plans.

Also in action in CONMEBOL on Tuesday, Chile – who are second in the nine-nation group – host Colombia, before bottom country Paraguay welcome an out-of-form Venezuela.

Uruguay can usurp Ecuador into third spot in the group with a win in their clash in Montevideo.

In the AFC, Jordan host Australia in Amman, in what looms as a must-win clash for both nations in Group B.

Lebanon will go in underdogs to their clash with Iran, having not won in their three Group A games so far, while the Iranians are unbeaten through two.

South Korea will hope to make it three wins from as many qualifying matches, when they travel to winless Uzbekistan, while unbeaten Japan host Iraq.

In UEFA qualifying, 24 matches will take place, headlined by Spain’s first match in their World Cup defence away to Georgia.

Other European powerhouses in action on Tuesday include the Netherlands, who are on the road against Hungary, while Italy host Malta, England welcome Ukraine, Portugal are on home soil against Azerbaijan, Germany will visit neighbours Austria and France are at home to Belarus.

Other European qualifiers will see Cyprus at home to Iceland, Russia will visit Israel, Romania and Andorra will do battle, Norway welcome Slovenia, Bulgaria play host to Armenia, Turkey will welcome Estonia, while Bosnia-Herzegovina and Latvia will go head to head.

Slovakia and Lichtenstein are set to clash, minnows Kazakhstan tackle Sweden away, Switzerland host Albania, San Marino welcome Montenegro, Serbia host Wales, Greece play host to Lithuania, Poland and Moldova do battle, Belgium take on Croatia, Northern Ireland and Luxembourg meet and Scotland host Macedonia.

In CONCACAF, Jamaica will be hoping to emulate their heroics from last week when they upset the United States when they two countries meet in Ohio.

Other matches in the confederation include Guatemala’s visit to Antigua and Barbuda, Guyana’s hosting of El Salvador, Mexico welcoming Costa Rica, Panama taking on the Canadians and Honduras at home to Cuba.

In Oceania, New Zealand will welcome the Solomon Islands, while New Caledonia are on the road at Tahiti.

World Cup qualifying preview: Italy v Malta

11 September 2012 08:37

Cesare Prandelli’s Italy are heavily favoured to record their first win of the 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign at the expense of Malta.

The Euro 2012 finalists got their bid for a place at the Brazil showpiece off to a slow start after being held to a 2-2 draw by Bulgaria on Friday, denied the three points by a Georgi Milanov equaliser in the second half.

Prandelli labelled the display in Sofia as ‘insufficient’ and is expected to ring the changes for Tuesday’s clash at Stadio Alberta Braglia in Modena.

With strikers Mario Balotelli and Antonio Cassano out injured, the Italian coach opted for two forwards short on international experience against the Bulgarians in Pablo Osvaldo and Sebastian Giovinco.

Osvaldo thrived, scoring both his side’s goals, but Juventus target man Giovinco was largely ineffective and could be replaced by Osvaldo’s Roma team-mate Mattia Destro or Bologna’s Alessandro Diamanti, who featured irregularly during Euro 2012.

Prandelli, who changed to a 4-3-1-2 formation against the Bulgarians after initially seeing his 3-5-2 fail to reap reward, indicated he will opt for a more attacking line-up against Malta.

“A lot of things went wrong (against Bulgaria), so much so that on Tuesday we might repeat the 4-3-1-2 against Malta and bring on Diamanti and Destro,” Prandelli said.

Midfield stalwart Daniele De Rossi is facing a month on the sidelines after straining his thigh muscle in the opening qualifier, which could open the door for the likes of Antonio Nocerino and Federico Peluso.

Tense exchanges took place between Italian team-mates against Bulgaria and Prandelli has urged his team to show more unity.

“It’s not a good sign when players are arguing on the pitch, it shows you have lost your calm, your serenity and the quality of your game also suffers,” the 55-year-old said.

Malta, a lowly 139th in the FIFA world rankings, opened their campaign with a 1-0 home defeat to Armenia.

Coached by Italian Pietro Ghedin, a former assistant coach for Italy’s national team, the minnows are widely expected to struggle for points in a Group B which also includes Denmark and the Czech Republic.

The loss to Armenia halted a three-match winning run for Ghedin’s men, but Malta have been comfortably defeated in each of their four previous encounters against the Azzurri and will find it difficult to avoid the same fate this time around.