England comes into Friday’s Euro qualifying match at the top of Group G, tied with Montenegro with 11 points each.
Their opponent, a hard-fighting Bulgarian team, is hanging on by a thread in the competition after a pair of disappointing draws, their only victory in the competition so far against Wales last October. A loss in Sofia on Friday would be the end. But before the the Tricolors throw in the towel, they’ve still got three matches in the group stage, and with home-field advantage and hungry after England’s 4-0 decimation at Wembley last year, this match may be one to watch after all.
Click on for Friday’s starting lineups, matchday considerations and injury reports, and get ready to watch the Lions take on the Three Lions.
In choosing his squad for Euro, Capello has kept his eye on young talent, and, well, Young’s talent. After Ashley Young, the recent Manchester United signing, scored two goals in a brilliant performance against Arsenal last weekend, all eyes are on him as a power player for England this weekend. Fellow fresh-faced Red Devils Tom Cleverley (22), Phil Jones (19) and Chris Smalling (21) all caught the England manager’s eye as injuries and personnel changes created more opportunities for the young players to get experience on the field, and even have a few shining moments, among them Smalling’s goal in United’s Community Shield victory.
Plenty of familiar faces dot the lineup—John Terry, Frank Lampard, Wayne Rooney—but some notable absences can be found as well. Former interim captain Steven Gerrard is out, still recovering from a groin injury. Peter Crouch is nowhere to be found and Man U newcomer Danny Welbeck, despite having a strong start to the season including a goal in last week’s Arsenal 8-2 trouncing, did not join his fellow young’ns on the England squad due to a hamstring injury.
Capello named the full 25-man lineup last week for the match against Bulgaria and the following fixture against Wales at Wembley on Sept. 6.
Robert Green (West Ham United), Joe Hart (Manchester City), David Stockdale (Ipswich Town – on Loan From Fulham)
Leighton Baines (Everton), Gary Cahill (Bolton Wanderers), Ashley Cole (Chelsea), Phil Jagielka (Everton), Phil Jones (Manchester United), Joleon Lescott (Manchester City), Micah Richards (Manchester City), Chris Smalling (Manchester United), John Terry (Chelsea)
Gareth Barry (Manchester City), Tom Cleverley (Manchester United), Stewart Downing (Liverpool), Adam Johnson (Manchester City), Frank Lampard (Chelsea), James Milner (Manchester City), Scott Parker (West Ham United), Theo Walcott (Arsenal), Ashley Young (Manchester United)
Darren Bent (Aston Villa), Andy Carroll (Liverpool), Jermain Defoe (Tottenham Hotspur), Wayne Rooney (Manchester United)
Predicted starting XI: Hart; Cole, Terry, Baines, Richards; Lampard, Downing, Young, Barry; Bent, Rooney.
Lothar Matthäus is a name England fans will recognize—a successful penalty shot for West Germany helped prevent the Three Lions from reaching the 1990 World Cup final. Now, as the coach of Bulgaria, he’s out to stop them in their tracks again.
Like Capello, Matthäus is looking to young talent from within the Bulgarian league, calling up several promising young players from CSKA and Levski Sofia. Look for 21-year-old CSKA striker Spas Delev to make waves in a late appearance.
A notable absence from Bulgaria’s lineup is Levski Sofia vice-captain Vladimir Gadzhev, originally called up but having to bow out due to injury.
Goalkeepers: Nikolay Mihaylov (FC Twente), Vladislav Stoyanov (Sheriff Tiraspol)
Defenders: Ivan Bandalovski (CSKA Sofia), Zhivko Milanov (Vaslui), Nikolay Bodurov (Litex Lovech), Alexander Tunchev (Crystal Palace), Valentin Iliev (Steaua Bucuresti), Ivan Ivanov (Partizan), Kostadin Stoyanov (CSKA Sofia), Peter Zanev (Litex Lovech)
Midfielders: Blagoy Georgiev (Terek Grozny), Stilian Petrov (Aston Villa), Tsvetomir Tzonkov (Chernomorets Burgas), George Sarmov (Kasımpaşa), Marquinhos (Anorthosis Famagusta), Stanislav Manolev (PSV Eindhoven)
Forwards: Ivelin Popov (Gaziantepspor), Martin Petrov (Bolton Wanderers), Spas Delev (CSKA Sofia), Tsvetan Genkov (Wisla Krakow), George Bozhilov (Cherno More Varna)
Predicted starting XI:
Mihaylov; Tunchev, Zanev, Bandalovski, Iliev; S. Petrov, Manolev, Marquinhos, Georgiev; M. Petrov, Popov.
Out for England: Steven Gerrard (groin injury), Danny Welbeck (hamstring)
New talent in the midfield and strong players like Ashley Young and Gareth Barry will make up for the absence of Stevie G, although his presence as a leader and Three Lions regular will be missed. Welbeck’s injury is particularly disappointing—after a great start to the season, this would have been a nice opportunity for the forward to get his feet wet on the international circuit.
Out for Bulgaria: Chavdar Yankov (Achilles tendon), Apostol Popov (cruciate ligament), Vladimir Gadzhev
Without Yankov, Bulgaria loses one of its top leadership figures. In addition to serving as an interim captain during one of Petrov’s absences, Yankov is a consistent, committed force and has had a few nice international goals.