Gerrard fears dirty tricks as England face San Marino
World Cup qualifiers: rough treatment on the cards as home teams continue their campaigns
THE countdown to Brazil 2014 continues this evening and England's clash with tiny San Marino is not the only tie set to be a bruising encounter. As the qualifying groups take shape, competition will be fiercer than ever. Note: the Northern Ireland v Russia match has been postponed to 3 pm on Saturday because of the weather.
San Marino v England: Steven Gerrard is expecting a catalogue of dirty tricks from San Marino. The England captain tells The Sun: "They're happy to stop us and keep the scoreline down. They'll slow the game, give stupid fouls, get on to the referee, do anything they can to stop us scoring. I'm sure the pitch will have a few issues as well." Although San Marino, who have lost their last 50 games, are ranked as the world's poorest side, Gerrard insists: "The pressure is all on us." The Liverpool midfielder also alluded to the Rio Ferdinand row, stating: "Playing for England is the pinnacle of everyone's career. If I'm not playing tomorrow I'll be very disappointed, which shows what it means to me." Second-placed England can go top in Group H with a win at the Stadio di Serravalle.
Scotland v Wales: Wales boss Chris Coleman says the suggestion that the best way for Scotland to counter the threat of Gareth Bale is by chopping him down is outmoded and "Neanderthal". Former Rangers defender John Brown advised the Scottish team that Bale "can't run without legs", adding: "I'm sure that will be getting passed around the squad." Nevertheless, Coleman said he would welcome rough treatment from Scotland, predicting it would lead to a rash of red cards. "I'm happy if they want to do that and we're playing against eight or nine because there are only so many times you can do that these days before you're off the pitch," he tells The Daily Telegraph. Coleman says that Bale has a good chance of recovering from ankle and viral problems to face Scotland in the Group A qualifier at Hampden Park.
Sweden v Rep of Ireland: Ireland can go second in Group C with victory over Sweden in Stockholm. Ireland captain Robbie Keane joked earlier this week that he and his team-mates may need to "try to kick" star Swedish striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic "as far as we can" at the Friends Arena. In response, Ibrahimovic tells The Daily Express: "I am prepared for everything. If the opponent has to do everything to stop the other team, that is what we have to do also." With temperatures due to dip as low as minus-nine degrees during the match, Sweden coach Erik Hamren is calling for the roof to be closed for the tie. Ireland boss Giovanni Trapattoni has previously called for it to be left open.
Northern Ireland v Russia: Northern Ireland boss Michael O'Neill, still seeking his first win as an international manager after taking over in February 2012, is short of experienced strikers for the tie with Russia. Injured Will Grigg and suspended Kyle Lafferty will both miss the game, leaving Burnley's Martin Paterson likely to start as a lone striker. Russian boss Fabio Capello is shrugging off speculation he may be Chelsea's next boss, telling The Daily Mail: "I know nothing about this. I am really happy with Russia and focused to qualify for the World Cup." Russia have won all four of their qualifying games to date, while Northern Ireland have not won since defeating the Faroe Islands in August 2011.