England are expected to beat Slovakia and Turkey do likewise against F.Y.R. Macedonia.
By Luke Williams
England and Turkey can take total control of UEFA EURO 2004™ Group 7 on Wednesday with home victories against Slovakia and F.Y.R. Macedonia.
Turkey reclaimed top spot on Saturday with a 1-0 win against the Slovakians to move on to 12 points. England are two behind with a game in hand - meaning that if both sides keep winning, Sven-Göran Eriksson's side will go into the 11 October group finale between the countries in Istanbul with a one-point advantage.
'They can do it'
However, as England's home draw against the Macedonians last October showed, beating the 'minnows' of the group is far from straightforward. Turkey coach Senol Günes, for one, believes that Slovakia, currently on six points, can cause a shock. "If they play the same way as they did against us, they can do it," he said. "They are a good side and capable of handling England. It is once again very tight in this group."
The absence of suspended captain David Beckham, a scorer in all four qualifiers so far, will not help England. "He is an excellent player and they will miss him at set plays," said Slovakia coach Ladislav Jurkemik. In Beckham's absence, media attention will inevitably focus on young striker Wayne Rooney, who is in direct competition with Emile Heskey to partner stand-in skipper Michael Owen, who at the age of 23 will become the youngest English international to receive 50 caps on Wednesday.
'Heskey is strong'
Heskey, with five goals in 34 internationals, has many critics while Rooney's four appearances for his country have garnered unanimous acclaim. However, Eriksson is a fan of both players. "Rooney and Heskey have quite different qualities," he said. "Heskey is strong, even stronger than Rooney, and is a better header. But Rooney can play up front on his own."
Upson set to start
With defenders Rio Ferdinand, Sol Campbell and Gary Neville, plus midfield players Nicky Butt, Trevor Sinclair and Kieron Dyer all injured Gareth Southgate is a certain starter. His likely partner in central defence will be Matthew Upson.
Slovakia, who lost 2-1 at home to England last October, have won two of their last three qualifiers and coach Jurkemik feels the pressure is off his side. "There is nothing for us to lose, we can only win," he said. "When we played in Bratislava we were equal to the England team but did not have any luck."
Defender Maros Klimpl is suspended while wing-back Vladimír Leitner has 'flu and midfield player Peter Hlinka has been dropped. Vladimír Janocko, Igor Demo and Marián Zeman have minor knocks but are expected to be fit while Middlesbrough FC's Szilárd Nemeth will spearhead the attack on his home ground.
Meanwhile Macedonia, who drew 3-3 with Turkey in a 2002 FIFA World Cup qualifier, are confident they can perform well again in Istanbul. "We will not play too openly, but it doesn't mean that we will only defend," said coach Nikola Ilievski. "If my players can put into practice what we have talked about, we could achieve a good result."
Bozinovski called up
Mile Krstev, Ilco Naumoski are suspended while Boban Grncarov misses the game through injury and Igor Jancevski and Vance Trajanov are struggling to be fit. Vasko Bozinovski and Vlatko Grozdanovski have been called into the squad.
Turkey are without suspended midfield duo Okan Buruk and Yildiray Bastürk while defenders Servet Çetin and Fatih Sonkaya have returned to the Under-21 side. Coach Günes is determined that his team should not slip up. "We want to win this game at all costs," he said. "We view this game as though it is a final."