England must face Black Sea baptism

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The Independent Online

England's incoming manager will have a Black Sea baptism when his new charges open their World Cup qualifying campaign in Moldova in September, while Scotland travel to Vienna in what could be a crucial encounter against Austria at the end of August.

Terry Venables has presented his successor with an opening qualifier on 1 September and a climax in Rome against the Group Two favourites, Italy, 14 months later.

But the FA delegation left Warsaw with a balanced schedule, which could prove a plus point in their search for a new coach to take on the challenge of a group which includes Poland and Georgia.

The new man will have three Premiership games in which to assess and assemble his first line-up but Venables, who is so far abiding by his decision to resign after the European Championship finals, said: "It was unavoidable to start this way. Ideally we would have liked to play at home, but with the way the fixtures were dropping we could then have ended with three away games on the trot.

"It's all about getting the balance right, with four other countries all trying to do the same, and I think we have managed that."

Moldova beat Wales and Georgia in the European Championship qualifying campaign, but are holding out little hope of matching England. "It's impossible for us to beat them," their coach, Ion Caras, said. "England and Italy are clear favourites from a group which will be very difficult for us. Every game is a great occasion for us but this will be the biggest because England is the father of football."

England follow up with a home game against their by now traditional rivals, Poland, and the perilous trip to Georgia in November. They resume against Italy at Wembley's in February, having ruled out an Easter game at the behest of a Premiership anxious to protect its holiday schedules. The FA chief executive, Graham Kelly, has negotiated free weekends before all bar the April, 1997 Wembley game against Georgia, which is followed by the most treacherous-looking of the games, in Poland on 31 May

The Scotland coach, Craig Brown, emerged from his meeting in Vienna with what seems a favourable hand, without the having to play any ties before the European Championship finals, opening at the Ernst Happel Stadium on 31 August, barely a fortnight after the start of the Scottish League season.

"We are satisfied with our schedule," Brown said. "We have had tough away matches at the start of previous campaigns and have emerged successfully from the groups. We went to Finland at the start of the campaign for Euro 96 and won 2-0, which was a big factor in making it to England."

World Cup 1998

qualifying schedule


1996 Sun Sep 1 Moldova (A)

Wed Oct 9 Poland (H)

Sat Nov 9 Georgia (A)

1997 Wed Feb 12 Italy (H)

Wed Apr 30 Georgia (H)

Sat May 31 Poland (A)

Wed Sep 10 Moldova (H)

Sat Oct 11 Italy (A)


1996 Sat Aug 31 Austria (A)

Sat Oct 5 Latvia (A)

Wed Oct 9 Estonia (A)

Sun Nov 10 Sweden (H)

1997 Sat Mar 29 Estonia (H)

Wed Apr 2 Austria (H)

Wed April 30 Sweden (A)

Sun June 8 Belarus (A)

Sat Sep 6 Belarus (H)

Sat Oct 11 Latvia (H)