England meet Moldova with trip to Brazil finals not a certainty
Injuries to Rooney and Sturridge along with grim prediction from FA's Greg Dyke fail to lift the mood
NO ROONEY, no Sturridge and a chairman who believes they have no chance of winning the 2014 World Cup. It would be fair to say morale in the England camp is not sky high ahead of tonight's crucial qualifier against Moldova at Wembley.
England should still be too strong for their modest opponents, though a sterner test will be provided next Tuesday when they travel to the Ukraine to play the nation ranked third in their World Cup qualification group.
With Montenegro leading group H by two points, England know they cannot afford to drop points either tonight or on Tuesday, particularly as they still have to face Montenegro at Wembley next month.
Yet Wayne Rooney has been sidelined because of a head injury and Daniel Sturridge - in the form of his life for Liverpool - is out with a thigh strain.
That means a second cap for 31-year-old Southampton striker Rickie Lambert, who scored on his debut last month in the 3-2 friendly victory against Scotland.
Elsewhere England manager Roy Hodgson has partnered the youth of Jack Wilshere with the experience of Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard in the midfield, while Theo Walcott and Danny Welbeck form a frontline either side of Lambert.
On paper it's a strong side but, as England have already shown during this World Cup qualification campaign, that doesn't necessarily produce results.
Three draws from six matches have left the Three Lions in a precarious position and prompted Greg Dyke, the new chairman of the Football Association, to offer up a pessimistic assessment of their chances in Brazil next year - assuming they make it.
"I don't think anyone realistically thinks we are going to win the World Cup in Brazil," Dyke told the Radio 4 Today programme. "Let's not kid ourselves, it's pretty hard to win in Latin America anyway for a European side. We're certainly not going to go there as odds-on favourites, that's for sure."
When asked what he thought of his chairman's less than enthusiastic analysis of the England team, Hodgson replied: "We don't see it as a doomed mission. None of us with the team ever saw it that way. We don't believe our chairman sees anything as a doomed mission.”
But Hodgson also conceded that as far as the 2014 World Cup goes, "I doubt very much we will be among the bookmakers' favourites”, while captain Steven Gerrard declared: "We want to qualify for the World Cup, go there and make the nation proud. We can go and do that without winning it.”
It's a measure of how far England have fallen in their own eyes that now simply reaching a World Cup is the summit of their ambition. How the Germans must be laughing. ·