If England fail to qualify for next summer’s European Championships in Poland and Ukraine it will be a minimum of 12 years between the three lions left the field at Euro 2004 and their opening game at Euro 2016.
So while it’s until now been only a whisper thanks to the all singing and dancing transfer window, England’s clash with Bulgaria in Sofia on Friday is a game of monumental importance.
Fabio Capello’s men currently sit top of Group G going into this round of matches but with Montenegro trailing only on goal difference, they know any slip ups in Sofia will be pounced upon.
England are 8/15 favourites to get the away win they so crave with Bulgaria 9/2 and the draw 11/4.
A repeat scoreline of the 4-0 trouncing in the return fixture last year at 25/1 will be unlikely to attract too many takers given England rarely hit the heights on their European travels.
It’ll more likely be a closer encounter with fewer goals and extended periods of possession football with little penetration; an England 2-0 win goes at 11/2 while a 2-1 victory is further out at 15/2.
The good news for England is that Ashley Young and Wayne Rooney were in ominous form on the weekend during Manchester United’s destruction of Arsenal, while Liverpool’s Stewart Downing has looked lively so far.
Either of the United forwards are worth a shout to open the scoring at 13/2 and 7/2 respectively and both are certain starters ahead of the game.
Liverpool’s Andy Carroll is 6/1 to score first but it will be worth checking the teamsheet before piling into the long haired Geordie.
Nervous England fans may also be keeping one eye on events in Wales as Gary Speed’s men face Montenegro in Group G’s other major clash; Wales are 15/8 to win.