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Moldovans get ready to crumble

It was always going to be hard to make a case for Moldova restricting England to a respectable World Cup scoreline tonight and having spent time with their coach it is impossible.

The impression from Ion Caras, with all that has gone on here over the past 10 days, was that it is almost Moldova's duty to lose heavily at Wembley.

It is not unusual for foreign coaches to improve their own players' morale with a public reminder that England's reputation as one of football's super powers belongs to a bygone age, that the famous old stadium is not the intimidating arena it might once have been.

Caras does not belong to that band. He has an abiding respect for the English game and as far as he is concerned it was a travesty of justice that Italy triumphed at Wembley in February. His view is that Glenn Hoddle has taken England into a new realm and Italy are trailing behind.

There was a tribute from Caras to Diana, Princess of Wales and an explanation, bordering on an apology, that because of Moldova's restricted schedule they may be unable to pay their respects at the shrine that is Kensington Palace.

It is impossible for this not to sound patronising, but it is difficult for a team who have accumulated zero points in the qualifying group, conceded 13 goals and who have only ever beaten the likes of Sudan, Indonesia and Wales, not to regard every game as providing an impossible mountain to climb.

Moldova have improved in the 12 months since the Republican Stadium gave Hoddle a convincing start to his England reign, but the representatives of the former Soviet republic, who only came into being as a football nation six years ago, have made their first visit to London still believing that they cannot put even a small stone in England's qualifying path.

"The result is a foregone conclusion," Caras said. "But even if we were to lose heavily it would be an achievement for us to score a goal. With the exception of David Seaman, who I hope will not threaten our goal, every player is a danger to us. Great teams have struggled at Wembley and it goes without saying that the smaller nations will regard playing there as a big hurdle.

"Even if we lose and lose heavily, it will not be an embarrassment or the end of the world for us. If we play well and get beaten, it will still be a great occasion."

Moldovans do not find much demand for their players abroad. Only one of the starting 11 tonight - the Widzew Lodz midfielder Alexandru Curteanu - earns his living outside his homeland from which tobacco and alcohol are the more profitable exports. The 14-club domestic league suffers through the 4.8 million population's preference for Greco-Roman wrestling, yet the national team do include a pair of strikers who should not be underestimated.

Before the final game of last season in Moldova, Serghei Rogachev had scored 29 goals and Yuri Miterev 25. Miterev added another nine in Zimbru's 15-1 win to stake his claim as leading scorer only to be shaded by Rogachev, who scored every one of Olimpia's goals in a 6-6 draw.

Even so the feeling is that just one shot from the pair past Seaman would provoke national rejoicing in the street of the Moldovan capital, Chisinau, no matter how many end up in the away net.