Good morning. Dominic Fifield will be along from 10am to answer your questions on England's World Cup qualifying fixture tonight.
England begin their qualification campaign for the 2014 World Cup tonight. Bobby Charlton does not think they can win the trophy, but Roy Hodgson's first job is to ensure they qualify from a group containing Montenegro, Ukraine, Poland, San Marino and tonight's opponents Moldova.
England last travelled to Chisinau in September 1996 for Glenn Hoddle's first game in charge of the national team. David Beckham won his first cap that night in a 3-0 win, with Nick Barmby, Paul Gascoigne and Alan Shearer the goalscorers.
If Hodgson is to pick up three points tonight, he will have to do it without nine England regulars. Wayne Rooney, Andy Carroll, Ashley Cole and Adam Johnson missed the trip with injuries. Hodgson is expected to play a midfield of James Milner, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and Oxlade-Chamberlain, with Michael Carrick protecting the defence and Danny Welbeck leading the attack.
Moldova are ranked 48th of the 53 teams in Europe, but the England manager is taking nothing for granted: "There are a lot of factors when you go to a place like Moldova," said Hodgson. "We have to come to terms with what the stadium is going to be like, what the atmosphere is going to be like, what the pitch is going to be like, as well as how good these players are."
Dominic Fifield has travelled to Chisinau ahead of tonight's game and will be online at 10am BST to answer your questions.
Moldova, England's opponents in their first qualifying match in Group H for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, are better known for the role they played in the British comedian Tony Hawks's film Playing the Moldovans at Tennis than for their exploits on the football pitch.
As part of a bet for his second book turned film, after England beat Moldova 4-0 in 1997, Hawks attempted to beat each member of the Moldovan national football team at tennis. While this may seem derogatory Roy Hodgson will not be taking them lightly as he prepares England for their first competitive match since Euro 2012.
The eastern Europeans have never qualified for a World Cup or European Championship and, after finishing second from bottom in a Euro 2012 qualifying group that also contained Holland, Sweden, Hungary, Finland and San Marino, they have called on a familiar face in their quest to create history after winning their first match in three years last September. Read more.
Dominic Fifield is now online answering questions in the comments section below.
solidsnakeistight has a question about England's opponents, Moldova: "Will they have a go? Do they think they're hard enough?"
I'm not sure they will, though they probably think they are... This is a team who have not scored in five games, four of which were in 2012 under Ion Caras, and the impression given yesterday was that they are actually playing a more defensively minded game these days than over recent years. Which, I suppose, is reflected in that goal tally...
Here's Jack Johnson's piece on all things Moldova. It'll still feel an awkward fixture for England, though, I suspect and they'll be asked to unpick blanket defence. It could feel decidedly uncomfortable if they don't score relatively early on. Somehow, I can see this being something of a slog.
term1011 asks about England's forward line: "Who will start upfront – Daniel Sturridge?"
Roy Hodgson admitted yesterday that, following Andy Carroll's withdrawal with his hamstring injury: "We don't have a conventional centre-forward for this game, so we have to play to our strengths: play to people's feet, get the ball into midfield, not resorting to long ball tactics."
There are suggestions that he has been working towards pairing Danny Welbeck – who impressed Hodgson at Euro 2012 with his performances both in a partnership and in isolation – with Jermain Defoe, his most experienced forward left in the ranks, in training over the course of the week. Defoe can win his 50th cap tonight if he features.
But I wonder if that was actually finetuning a "plan B", and whether Defoe might be used from the bench if England are struggling to make in-roads, in the same way that Joe Cole was introduced against Andorra back in the autumn of 2008 when the game was still 0-0 and frustration was welling. The Spurs striker is so direct and intent upon rattling off shots from anywhere and everywhere, and has been used effectively from the bench against tiring legs before. Perhaps that's unfair, but instinct suggests Hodgson might go for the relative solidity of a 4-1-4-1 (or one of its variables) from the start, with Welbeck up front on his own, and then tweak it as he sees necessary.
Daniel Sturridge may have to wait to get his chance, though his ability to function on the right side – however reluctantly – does offer him an opportunity to make an impact if called upon.
Pfield asks about Jermain Defoe: "Should he start? If he played 38 league games for a Premier League club he'd get 20 goals. He's easily England's most gifted goalscorer at the moment. But England and Spurs managers continue to not pick him (looks like Adebayor will come into the Spurs team when he's match ready). What's wrong with him? Too short?"
I take the point over his natural goalscoring ability. He does have that knack and, as I said earlier, is direct and threatening whenever given the chance to run at defenders. He is also due a break, to be honest, given everything that has happened to him off the pitch over recent years (here's a piece from earlier in the week) But I tend to agree with people when they suggest he is best used as an impact substitute.
In some ways, he feels like a victim of the suddenly a la mode "one up" formations, where a lone forward is supported from midfield or wide rather than with a partner alongside him. It's been his problem at Spurs, where Rafael van der Vaart seemed to keep him out of the team to play off Emmanuel Adebayor last season (despite Defoe having an impressive goal to playing time ratio), and it will be with England too, I suspect, while there are no obvious "natural" partnerships up front.
Andy Carroll and Danny Welbeck worked well together in the Sweden game over the summer, and could represent one tactic going forward, but the West Ham loanee isn't here. When Defoe came on in Berne last month, he replaced Carroll and wasn't asked to play alongside him.
I'm not sure how comfortable Defoe appears when playing on his own up front. He says he can perform there. "You have to be patient," he told us on Tuesday. "You don't get as many touches in the game compared to if you're playing a 4-4-2. You cannot drop too deep as there will be no one up front. You have to be patient and come alive at the right times." But he still seems best suited feeding off scraps from a fellow forward – I know, that sounds cliche, but there you go... – and not having to shield the ball with his back to goal while seeking to bring team-mates into play on the counter-attack.
Despite all that, of course, his goalscoring record for Spurs and England – 16 goals in 49 caps, only 17 of which have been starts – suggests he should have a considerable role to play. "What can I do?" he added earlier this week. "For a player it is important to stay focused and, if you don't start games, you have to make an impact when you come on. If I was one of those players that looked at the stats and started sulking, I would not have done what I have done, like coming on and scoring the winner against Italy (last month). Come on, be bright against defenders who are tired, and try and spot a weakness while you're sitting on the bench." He seems to do that effectively when given the chance.
HongKongBlue asks about trite pronouncements from England players and the quality of the cheese in Moldova: "Are you tired, like most of us, when England players delivery crass lines such as "England must believe" (S. Gerard) and we just wish they would just shut up and get on with it? Also, what is your favorite cheese? Are there any special Moldova Cheddars' out there?"
It's hard to know what they can say, to be honest. They're on a bit of a hiding to nothing in that respect, and, as a journalist covering their press conference, I'd rather they said something than nothing at all. I think Gerrard was just being honest and speaking as the team's captain going into the qualification campaign – one that he anticipates will be his last ahead of a World Cup.
He's hardly going to turn around and say: "We don't have a chance. This is all pointless. Apologies in advance to the 1,000 or so England fans who have come over to Chisinau for the game..." He has to believe this team can achieve something, and these players can prove their quality, getting to and at a World Cup. Regardless, he knows they'll only be judged with the shift they put in on the pitch, rather than the tubthumping statements they deliver off it.
As for cheese, I'm not a huge fan. If I'm forced, then something mature that takes the roof of the mouth off... or something smokey and "interesting"... probably something in between a Stinking Bishop and a wild garlic yarg. Or something. Not goat. Never goat. Enough...
Definatelynotashark wants a prediction: "I'm going 3-1 to the Lions."
A somewhat stodgy 2-0, and a far more impressive performance to beat a better Ukraine side at Wembley on Tuesday night.
solidsnakeistight is hoping Roy Hodgson is not going to make the same mistake as many England managers before him: "Roy isn't actually going to pick Gerrard and Lampard together, is he?"
I think he will, to be honest, unless Tom Cleverley can force his way into the side at Frank Lampard's expense. This will be very much going back to the future: Lampard and Gerrard have not started a game together for England since the friendly victory over Hungary in August 2010, and their last competitive start alongside each other was in Bloemfontein. Which we don't talk about.
But Hodgson has been adamant over the last few weeks that he is not in the position to discard the elder statesmen in his squad, particularly given the number of injuries that have eaten into his options. He is without nine players here who, potentially, would all be in the squad. If Jack Wilshere was fit, had not suffered the ankle and knee problems that have cost him the last 15 months, and was playing regularly for Arsenal, he would surely be a mainstay of this England midfield (I realise that is a big "if"), but he's not. And, in Hodgson's opinion, he needs to be pragmatic and ensure his team emerge victorious from potentially awkward hidings-to-nothing like this game in Chisinau. Relying upon experience appears to be his fall-back strategy.
I still think he'll play Michael Carrick – no spring chicken himself, at 31 – in a slightly deeper brief behind the Chelsea and Liverpool midfielders, allowing each the brief to maraud forward when they can. Hodgson has seen his predecessors in this role struggle to make that combination work consistently, and has acknowledged they have not always transposed club form on to the international stage when playing alongside each other. But he will believe he can eke something out of them and make the pairing work. If they click tonight, then the tactic has kick-started the group campaign.
AMRCLS asks about which young talent is going to emerge before the next World Cup: "With Jones and Parker injured, are you concerned that we are once again turning to the old guard of JT and Stevie G to be the bleeder? Who do you see as the young bleeders coming through? Could Tom Ince do this, maybe using the actual bandage his dad used?"
Gary Cahill could be a bleeder, couldn't he? There was that fractured jaw against the Belgians... metal plates, drinking soup through a straw, growling through the summer to be missing Euro 2012. He's made to wear the head bandage. Though he'll have to put a new shirt on otherwise he'll be booked for bringing the game into disrepute. Or something.
LeftyGuardianista wonders about the playing surface: "Is the pitch really as bad as people are saying, or are they just getting their excuses in early? It looked fine to me on the news!"
I went to training at the ground last night and the pitch isn't great, to be honest. The grass was long in places and, admittedly, is due to be cut and watered this morning, so that should make it a better surface, but it was still uneven and patchy. Dave Watson, the goalkeeping coach, spent a long time in each goalmouth muttering under his breath as he examined the turf, but Gary Neville – who played over here on England's only previous visit, in 1996 – said it was still a lot better than the pitch had been at the Republican stadium 16 years ago.
It's not going to be ideal, but these players run out enough times on dubious surfaces in European or cup competitions, so they should be able to cope. As much as Fifa's world ranking system feels increasingly surreal, the pitch isn't going to "level" a contest between a side rated third in the world and opponents languishing in 141st place. [Famous last words].
Definatelynotashark asks about England's music accompaniment: "Your honest thoughts on the England Brass band? Vuvuzela-level annoying or can insipid renditions of the Great Escape on loop be uplifting and inspiring to the boys?"
Each to their own, but they really don't do it for me. All feels a bit "manufactured atmosphere", I'm afraid. But I don't have to sit next to them, so I'm irrelevant.
solidsnakeistight wants some travel advice: "What have been your impressions of Chisinau as a town so far? The next popular holiday destination, perhaps?"
It's been very welcoming. I've been before, with Scotland in 2004, though my over-riding memories of that trip are of being drafted in (for some reason) to the Scottish media's press team to play right-back against a Moldovan media team. We lost our right winger to a pulled hamstring after eight seconds, which clearly left me horribly exposed with my performance utterly disintegrating thereafter. I like to think I was pretty solid for those opening eight seconds... As it was, I was dispossessed for at least two of the goals, was constantly outpaced by Moldovan players who actually boasted something resembling fitness, barely placed a pass all afternoon and was hooked at half-time with the team 4-1 down. I think we lost 6-2. Not sure the Scottish press pack ever forgave me...
cavelier5 writes: "Roy is a nice man, knows his beans and has been around football long enough to know how things work. Why he is persisting with the same players who have underwhelmed for so long? Surely he knows he'd be given more time and patience in the job if he makes a concerted effort to replace Terry, Gerrard and Lampard in particular. Is he genuinely expecting these players to play at the the next World Cup?"
To quote Roy Hodgson from last night when he was asked if the team was evolving in the way he had hoped: "That's difficult to answer given the number of injuries we've suffered. Nine players who were either with us at the Euros or, like Jack Wilshere, who would have been selected had he been fit, are absent. We have to wait until the pool of players is greater and a larger number of these candidates who should be knocking on the door, making it more difficult for senior players to keep their places, are available."
The follow-up was along the lines of if he was comfortable that his first-choice midfielders could be 33, 34 or even 36 in Brazil should we qualify: "Am I concerned? No. Otherwise I would be making the decision not to use anyone who's 30 when the World Cup comes along, and speculating on the younger ones getting us to Brazil. The first thing we have to do is qualify. Then we'll see. There have been a lot of World Cups when people of 35, 36 have made a fantastic impact. I don't write anyone off on grounds of age."
If we see Welbeck, maybe Kyle Walker and possibly Tom Cleverley in the side tonight, then there is a sprinkling of youthful talent being integrated into the team. Much, then, will presumably depend upon the progress the likes of Cleverley, Wilshere, Rodwell etc make with their club sides this season. The only way Hodgson can have a long-term plan is if younger players are featuring regularly and demanding inclusion at this level.
campbellpaul asks about the job played by Gary Neville: "What is his role with the England set-up now? Do you think he is respected by all of the players?"
He's one of the coaching staff and, yes, I believe he is. I don't have reason to suppose otherwise, anyway. It's fair to say he was a surprise appointment when he was announced prior to the Euros, but he seems a clever addition to the staff.
Right, it's sunny outside and loads of sparrows keep colliding with the window of my hotel room (there have been four of them now, head butting the glass at speed as if trying to get in) so I may venture out. Actually, maybe the sparrows are trying to escape something... Dilemma. No, I've got local mouldy Moldovan blue cheese to discover, apparently, so thanks for all the questions and the general lack of abuse (always appreciated), and enjoy the game this evening. Hope it's not as stodgy as I predicted...
Thanks for all your questions and comments.
While avoiding the cheeses of Moldova, Dominic posted this article on Michael Carrick. And if you're looking for more reading material ahead of tonight's match, Richard Williams has provided his assessment of the task facing Roy Hodgson in the next two years.