Early Doors gets out the old crystal ball to predict what lies ahead for England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland over the next few days in their respective World Cup qualifying fixtures. Will there be much rejoicing on the next step towards Brazil 2014, or just much wailing and gnashing of teeth? ED sees itself as a master soothsayer, but feel feel free to disagree in the comments section below.
Friday October 12
Wales v Scotland
ED prediction 1-1
The last time these teams came together in a World Cup qualifier was at Ninian Park Cardiff in 1985 when the Scotland manager Jock Stein tragically died moments after his country had achieved the draw they needed to reach the Mexico finals of 1986. Mark Hughes scored the opening goal only for Davie Cooper to equalise late on with a penalty. Scotland have been abused in Wales a few times since, losing 4-0 under Berti Vogts in 2004 and 3-0 under the equally beleaguered George Burley five years later, but with Steven Fletcher, Darren Fletcher and Kris Commons back in the reckoning they should be good enough to earn at least a point at the Cardiff City Stadium. Wales need to improve after the 6-1 loss to Serbia in their opening outing. Scotland may be slight favourites, but neither side wallow in goals. A draw would seem like a sensible prediction with so much to lose.
Republic of Ireland v Germany
ED prediction 0-2
Republic of Ireland manager Giovanni Trapattoni is of a mind that a win over Germany is possible in Dublin despite being without Richard Dunne, Sean St Ledger, Glenn Whelan, Kevin Doyle and James McClean. With those morbid humpings to Croatia, Spain and Italy at the Euro 2012 finals still fresh in the mind and a fortunate 2-1 win over Kazakhstan in their opening qualifying match, it is difficult not to envisage ze Germans, and all their Teutonic goodness, departing the Aviva Stadium without all three points.
England v San Marino
ED prediction 6-0
Who can forget the moment Stuart Pearce was short with a back pass as San Marino scored the fastest goal in international football? England fell one down in 8.3 seconds to the international plankton in 1993 before winning 7-1. It remains a record almost 20 years on. Do not expect a similar shock to the system on Friday night as San Marino batten down the hatches. St George's Park was certainly not built for evenings like this. More of a training session than anything else. Expect England to go to town on San Marino with at least four goals, but probably more.
Tuesday October 16
Croatia v Wales
ED prediction 3-0
The prospect of a trip to Croatia must be a knee-trembling one for Chris Coleman and his Wales team after their 6-1 shredding in Serbia. If they fail to beat or even lose to Scotland at home on Friday, this match is likely to represent the night the Welsh side's World Cup hopes collapsed for another campaign. Try as it might, ED cannot see Wales leaving with any sort of result which would be desperately disappointing for what was perceived a golden generation of Welsh football 20 years after Ian Rush, Hughes and Ryan Giggs were doing the rounds. A World Cup qualifying draw that looked favourable a few months ago would suddenly appear forlorn for the boyos.
Belgium v Scotland
ED prediction 3-1
Like the Welsh manager Chris Coleman, Scotland's coach Craig Levein could be on his deathbed if he heads to Brussels having lost or drawn in Wales. Scotland face a daunting task to upset one of the most expensively assembled squads in world football. It will probably become apparent by this stage that the piece of gold from Group B will be carved up between Belgium, Croatia and Serbia with Scotland, Wales and Macedonia playing for place in the lower half of a dog-eat-dog section. Depressing but ED fears the wrong man is running Scotland.
Faroe Islands v Republic of Ireland
ED prediction 0-2
Ireland might be creaking more than their manager after the Germany match, but they should possess enough class to get to and back from te Faroes with three points that will keep themselves vibrant in their qualifying section heading into the New Year having gleaned six points from a possible nine, the mandatory amount from their first three fixtures. Which is likely to be more that can be said for their near neighbours before they head for Portugal..
Portugal v Northern Ireland
ED prediction 4-0
Northern Ireland are a workmanlike side without possessing the level of class that is needed to carry you to a major tournament. A spirited performance in losing 2-0 to Russia was followed by a 1-1 draw at home to Luxembourg. With Cristiano Ronaldo recovered from his shoulder problems after last week's Clasico, this could be a long, painful night for Michael O'Neill's team of willing but limited triers
Poland v England
ED prediction 0-1
The Polish fans cut a wonderful array of colour during their hosting of the European Championships, but England are probably better suited to winning away from home. The nerves seem to disappear and England tend to play quite a smart, counter attacking game. Poland captain Jakub Blaszczykowski is out of the match with an ankle injury. At least in qualifying. Poland represent the type of team England have no problems beating away. It is their performances at finals against more celebrated countries that tends to be their undoing.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: There is more than just a touch of The Emperor's New Clothes about St George's Park, but not everybody is salivating over what is supposed to represent a bright new dawn for the national sport. England's 1990 World Cup semi-finalist and Eurosport pundit Paul Parker is baffled. "To spend £120 million on the coaching hub and 'skill-enhancement' centre seems an astonishing waste of money given how the money could better be invested in the game. We have been crying out for more investment in the grass roots of the game, and this does not solve the problems that still exist at the bottom...I do not believe that the FA have their house in order just yet, and no amount of new facilities and pitches at St George's Park can mask fundamental failings throughout English football."
COMING UP: Not much happening in terms of live football before the international matches, but we have continuing coverage of the Shanghai Masters tennis. We also have our Goal of the Week competition at lunchtime while bloggers Jim White and Andy Mitten will be along later in the day with their regular offerings.