England boss Roy Hodgson will name his squad for the forthcoming friendlies with the Republic of Ireland and Brazil on Thursday, but it is September’s World Cup qualifiers that will be uppermost in his mind.
Following a run of three wins and three draws from England’s six Group H matches, the Three Lions find themselves two points off group leaders Montenegro with four games left to play.
The Montenegrins have a chance to extend that lead to five points when they face the Ukraine in Podgorica on June 7th, and that could prove to be a tricky lead for England to overcome.
They would do just that with four wins from their remaining group games – a prospect priced at 3/1 with Ladbrokes – but given that they are yet to beat Montenegro in three attempts and face a tough trip to the Ukraine, a play-off could beckon.
The Three Lions are 7/2 to reach Brazil via a two-legged tie which would take place in November, whilst they are 6/1 to miss out on reaching the tournament altogether.
Hodgson’s men host Moldova and go to the Ukraine in September, before a Wembley double-header with Montenegro and Poland a month later.
The Moldovans – ranked 139th in the world – should be a pushover, but England will then be relying upon a sturdy defence as they go to the Ukraine, who managed a 1-1 draw at Wembley last September, when only Frank Lampard’s late penalty saved the hosts’ blushes.
Under Hodgson, England have only beaten Moldova and San Marino (twice) by more than a one-goal margin, meaning that the Ukraine visit as well as the home ties with Montenegro and Poland are likely to be played on a knife-edge.
One slip there could prove costly, and leave Hodgson facing extra fixtures that will be far more crucial than any upcoming friendly.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing