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Dublin: 14°C Friday 23 April 2021

10 talking points ahead of this evening's World Cup qualifiers

Can Ireland adopt a more attacking approach and how will Rickie Lambert fare on his first start for England?

Rickie Lambert has been handed a start by England boss Roy Hodgson tonight.
Rickie Lambert has been handed a start by England boss Roy Hodgson tonight.

A first start for Lambert

Rickie Lambert’s England debut was the stuff of dreams, a winning goal against Scotland within minutes of coming off the bench and now, less than a month later, he will make his first start after Roy Hodgson lost Wayne Rooney and then Daniel Sturridge to injury. While England are hopeful that Sturridge, who has been in excellent form for Liverpool at the start of the season, will return for the trip to Ukraine, the visit of Moldova on Friday night presents Lambert with another chance to prove his credentials, having already avoided the fate of one-cap wonders such as Jay Bothroyd, Kevin Davies, Michael Ricketts and Bobby Zamora. For many, facing Moldova is unlikely to be anything more than a warm-up for the big one against Ukraine on Tuesday but it could be a night that Lambert never forgets. JS

Republic of Ireland really must seize the day

If ever there was a time for Giovanni Trapattoni’s side to throw off the shackles and hunt down the play-off place in Group C, it is now. Level on 11 points with Austria and Sweden – but worse-off on goal difference – Trap’s boys must attack. Except they do not often do that against teams around them. A 0-0 draw in Sweden was a creditable result but spoke more of a fear of missing out rather than a desire to get a scent of Rio. The Republic of Ireland’s assistant manager, Marco Tardelli, has said there is “no special plan” to deal with Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who scored a hat-trick in the recent friendly against Norway. This could be seen as an act of folly but perhaps it is a sign that Ireland hope to be proactive rather than reactive for a change. Assuming that second-placed Austria lose to Germany, a win would take Ireland into the play-off place before visiting Vienna. With Norwich’s Anthony Pilkington likely to make his international debut due to Aiden McGeady’s injury and the new Everton signing James McCarthy having impressed in central midfield since replacing Glenn Whelan, Trapattoni’s side could look a little more youthful and fluid than usual. This is no bad thing, given that Sweden’s beanpole defence will likely gobble up any high balls pumped into the box. Short, sharp passes and a desire to seize the moment will be the order of the day. GB

Another Northern Ireland upset?

Although Northern Ireland have rarely been close to qualifying for a major tournament since the World Cup in 1986, they have been more than capable of taking a few scalps at home over the past few years. England and Spain have both been slain at Windsor Park and last month they stunned Fabio Capello’s Russia, beating them 1-0 in their Group F match. Now Russia will be hoping that Michael O’Neill’s side can make a similar nuisance of themselves against Portugal, who needed a last-minute equaliser at home to Northern Ireland in the return fixture. Portugal lead Russia by only two points, having played a game more, and Cristiano Ronaldo is an injury doubt, although an injury crisis in defence for Northern Ireland could mean that another upset will be a step too far for them. JS

Will Venezuela have enough players?

Venezuela’s preparations for their match against Chile have not exactly been ideal. It has emerged that 20 of their 24-man squad have been struck down by a stomach virus before a match they need to win if they are to maintain their hopes of reaching the World Cup for the first time in their history. Venezuela need to finish fifth to qualify for a playoff and are currently sixth, below Uruguay on goal difference. “They didn’t have a good night and they weren’t able to train well,” their manager, César Farías, understated. Not so much a selection headache as a full-blown migraine for Farias. JS

A potentially awkward evening for Spain

These are relatively uncertain times for Spain. By their own eye-wateringly high standards, the world and European champions have not quite hit the heights recently and seeing them lose 3-0 to Brazil in the final of the Confederations Cup in July was a shock to the system, albeit not one that will cause them to change theirs. They remain the best side in the world and should be the favourites to retain their trophy next summer. However, there is still little room to breathe at the top of Group I. Spain lead France by a point and will be eager to get a tricky trip to Finland out of the way. The Finns, after all, were 11 minutes away from winning in Spain, only for Sergio Ramos to deny them with a late equaliser. With France confident of winning in Georgia, Spain cannot afford another draw. JS

All eyes on Ozil ? and Germany’s leaky defence

Germany won the reverse fixture 2-1 in Vienna last September and the unbeaten hosts will be looking to move one step closer to automatic qualification at the Allianz Arena. Understandably all eyes will be on Arsenal’s record signing Mesut Ozil, who joined on transfer deadline day from Real Madrid. The 24-year-old scored against the visitors last time they met and will no doubt play a key role here again. Joachim Löw’s side will be without Bastian Schweinsteiger, Mario Götze and Ilkay Gundogan. Germany should win comfortably but there will be slight concerns about their defence, having conceded nine goals in three friendlies in May, June and August, including a 4-3 defeat by United States. However, they can take comfort from the fact that they have won their last eight matches in a row against their neighbours. AH

Mexico may finally lift the Azteca out of its slumber

With Honduras on seven points in fifth place and Mexico sitting in fourth in the Concacaf automatic qualification spot, this match has a real knockout feel to it. It is a wonder Mexico can still qualify, though, given that they have sleepwalked through their campaign thus far. The poor folk at the grand old Azteca Stadium have had to snore through three 0-0 draws in a row. But, a recent 4-1 friendly win against Ivory Coast suggests that the coach, José Manuel De La Torre, may finally have found a way for his team to look lively without the talented Carlos Vela, who is still refusing to play for the national team due to some shenanigans at an unauthorised knees-up in 2010. The Santos Laguna striker Oribe Peralta has shown signs of having a better understanding with the midfielders Giovani dos Santos and Angel Reyna in recent performances and the talk is that Javíer Hernandez, Mexico’s go-to man in the big games who has a record of 35 goals in 53 internationals, may be relegated to the bench. It is unlikely the two will be paired given their similar styles but, going on form (Peralta has scored five in six games for Santos Laguna this season), the Mexico-based striker looks the better option to lift the Azteca out of its slumber. And in any case Hernández has not been a bad option off the bench over the years. GB

A desire to do damage as Serbia play for pride

Serbia, unlike their visitors Croatia, are all but out of the race for qualification, as they remain nine points off the pace and languish in third place in the group. But after the war between the two nations during the break-up of Yugoslavia in the 1990s, there will be more than qualification points at stake in Belgrade.Throw in the bad blood between the two managers, Sinisa Mihajlovic and Igor Stimac, and it is easy to see that the cliché ‘more than a game’ applies here. The home side may not be going to Brazil but they will be particularly keen to damage Croatia’s qualification campaign and make amends for the 2-0 away defeat in Zagreb in March this year. Croatia still harbour ambitions of automatic qualification as they trail the group leaders, Belgium, by only three points. It promises to be a fierce and hostile affair. AH

Uruguay must cure travelsickness to keep Brazil in sight

One win, three defeats and two draws in the last six World Cup qualifiers have left Uruguay clinging on to the fifth-place play-off spot in South America. A malfunctioning defence has not helped (they shipped nine goals on visits to Argentina, Bolivia and Chile) and another leaky display in Lima when they play Peru could lead to a quiet summer in 2014. Edinson Cavani has come in for criticism for his lethargic displays in recent internationals but, with transfer speculation no longer bothering him after his £55m move to PSG, he should be focused again. Liverpool’s Luis Suárez – whose future has also been sorted out for now – will be champing at the bit, given that he has been short of game time due to his biting ban. If they can guarantee goals in Lima, defensive frailties may not matter. GB

Iceland’s chance to make some noise

It says a lot about Iceland’s size as a nation that, if you Google it, the first thing that pops up is the supermarket chain. But the little country that gave the world a huge ash cloud and the loud but enjoyable weirdmongers, Bjork and Sigur Ros, now has the chance to make a noise in World Cup qualifying. Wins against Norway, Albania and Slovenia have put Lars Lagerback’s team a point off second place. They face the group leaders, Switzerland, away but with nothing to lose and a crop of talented players such as Spurs’ Gylfi Sigurdsson, Ajax’s Kolbeinn Sigborsson, Sampdoria’s Birkir Bjarnason, expect them to bang the drum with a volcanic fury in Bern. GB

This article titled “World Cup 2014 qualifiers: 10 things to look out for” was written by Jacob Steinberg, Gregg Bakowski and Andy Ha, for

© Guardian News & Media Limited 2014

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