Bilic's men offer chance of revenge but Belarus and Hleb pose danger: Inside Group 6

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Croatia

Manager: Slaven Bilic. Former West Ham United and Everton defender making his mark in the dug-out.

Star player: Luka Modric. Likely to be in the Premier League when he faces England again, with Chelsea or Arsenal.

World ranking: 10

Record v England: P5 W2 D1 L2 F8 A9

Last match v England: Won 3-2 (a), 21 Nov 2007

World Cup record: Qualifird for finals in 1998, 2002, 2006. Best: 3rd in 1998

Recent form: Qualified for Euro 2008 as group winner.

Prospects: This time there ought be no chance of England treating Croatia with insufficient respect. There may be just five million people in the country but only 11 are required for a football team and Croatia have many technically skilled and highly motivated players to choose from.

Could be sterner opponents in World Cup qualifying, as young players will have benefited from the experience of playing in next summer's European Championship finals. Much may depend on whether they can hold on to Slaven Bilic. It would not be a surprise to see him in the Premier League next season.

Ukraine

Manager: Oleg Blokhin. The former playing great whose reign has been marked by controversy, especially following racist outburst last year.

Star player: Anatoliy Tymoschuk. Classy holding midfielder who has just led Zenit St Petersburg to Russian title.

World ranking: 29

Record v England: P2 W0 D0 L2 F0 A5

Last match v England: Lost 3-0 (a), 18 Aug 2004

World Cup record: Qualifird for finals in 2006. Best: Quarter-finals in 2006

Recent form: 4th in the Euro 2008 qualifying group behind Italy and France.

Prospects: Quarter-finalists in the 2006 World Cup but showed signs of decline in a disappointing Euro 2008 qualifying campaign.

Took one point from 12 against Italy and France and lost in Glasgow. At 31, Andrei Shevchenko is fading, though still worth respect, and greater responsibility needs to be taken on by the likes of Anatoliy Tymoschuk and Liverpool's Andrei Voronin.

Can be expected to blood some young players with a view to the 2012 European Championships which they co-host with Poland.

England's visit to Kiev will at least be a useful advance reconnaissance. Plenty of cash in the club game, but much of it spent on foreigners.

Belarus

Manager: Bernd Stange. The experienced German coach who became the manager of the old German Democratic Republic at the age of 35 and steered Iraq to fourth at the Athens Olympics despite the ongoing war.

Star player: Alexander Hleb. Arsenal's skilful winger, an increasing influence at the Emirates.

World ranking: 60

Record v England: Countries have never met.

World Cup record: Never qualified

Recent form: 4th in Euro 2008 qualifying group behind Romania and The Netherlands.

Prospects: Shot 34 places up the Fifa rankings this month after last week's shock defeat of the Netherlands – who had already qualified – in Euro2008 qualifying.

Can be a handful, in recent years they have beaten Scotland in Glasgow and lost 4-3 to Italy in Parma.

Technically skilful players – just look at Hleb – but a lack of depth means they struggle to threaten in qualifying campaigns. Nevertheless, will need to be treated with respect in one-off matches, especially since the appointment, earlier this year, of the much travelled Stange.

Kazakhstan

Manager: Arno Pijpers. Respected 48-year-old Dutchman who played for Feyenoord and previously coached Estonia.

Star player: Andrei Karpovich. Holding midfielder and one of the few Kazakhs to play abroad, in his case for Dynamo Moscow.

World ranking: 110

Record v England: Countries have never met

World Cup record: Never qualified.

Recent form: 6th in Euro 2008 qualifying group behind Poland and Portugal.

Prospects: A nightmare draw for the next England manager logistically. How many groin strains will be developed before the trip to Almaty? Larger than western Europe, but holding only 15 million people, Kazakhstan should be in the Asian zone and originally joined the AFC upon independence in 1992. It switched to Uefa 10 years later. Standards have risen since, especially following the appointment of Arno Pijpers in late 2005. In Euro 2008 qualifying they defeated Serbia at home, drew home and away with Belgium and were six minutes away from holding Portugal last month.

Andorra

Manager: David Rodrigo. Eight years in charge have brought few victories but increased respect.

Star player: Koldo Álvarez. Veteran goalkeeper who plays in the Spanish third division. Saved a penalty against Russia last week.

World ranking: 174

Record v England: P2 W0 D0 L2 F0 A8

Last match v England: Lost 3-0 (h), 28 Mar 2007.

World Cup record: Never qualified.

Recent form: 7th in Euro 2008 qualifying group behind Croatia and Russia.

Prospects: England will not relish another meeting with the part-timers after their embarrassing match in Barcelona in March. England won 3-0, but took nearly an hour to them break down. Andorra went pointless again in Euro 2008 qualifying but the average margin of defeat has declined since David Roderigo instilled a policy of dogged, often bruising, defence.

A fixture to get over and done with, since Andorra are likely to finish bottom of the group, even the goal tally is unlikely to matter. The FA will hope the national mood has improved by the time Andorra come to Wembley. It could be a hard sell otherwise.

Comments