Three Lions to bag three points in Moldova despite striker shortage

MOLDOVA vs ENGLAND

Zimbru Stadium, Kick-off: 1945

SURELY it’s a joke at our expense? I can’t think of any other way to describe England sitting third – their highest ever placing – in the FIFA world rankings.

In fact, the Three Lions have now held on to their place for a second straight month, in the latest table released this week. The reason is, despite poor tournament showings, England are half-decent at friendlies and have an impressive record in recent qualifiers.

They have lost just once in reaching the last two finals, after taking 27 points from 30 on the road to South Africa and 18 from 24 to reach Poland and Ukraine, while comfortably topping their sections on both occasions.

In order to get to Brazil in 2014 they will have to negotiate a pool containing a number of familiar foes. Montenegro, Ukraine, Poland, Moldova and San Marino stand in the way of Roy Hodgson’s men but, even if Group H is not a gimmie, they are rated at 4/9 to top the standings and are no longer than 1/80 to land a spot in the first two.

Although without the injured Wayne Rooney, who has admitted that a few too many holiday beers saw him return out of shape for pre-season, England should begin their campaign with a win. They are 2/7 with Coral to collect the three points on offer, but I think there are some smarter bets to be had.

The same firm goes 10/11 that England win to nil and that is more like it. We saw how Hodgson was happy to utilise defensive tactics at the Euros and there have been four clean sheets kept so far during the seven games of his tenure. Furthermore, in their last 40 qualifiers, England have conceded just 23 times and Moldova have scored in only one of their last seven fixtures – against San Marino.

As well as Rooney’s absence, Andy Carroll was forced to withdraw after suffering a hamstring injury on his West Ham debut, meaning Hodgson’s options look a little light up top. Whichever combination of Jermain Defoe, Daniel Sturridge and Danny Welbeck plays should be good enough to trouble the Moldovan backline, and there will be support from a midfield which has a capacity for goals, but it’s probably wise not to expect a deluge.

A strong England team won 3-0 on their last visit to Chisinau, with Nick Barmby, Paul Gascoigne and Alan Shearer settling the contest. Correct score-wise this time, most bookies see it being 1-0 or 2-0 and I think that’s bang on. With Coral 5/1 for 2-0 and 11/2 for 1-0, I’d go for the latter. With that in mind there looks to be a little bit of room to manoeuvre with Sporting Index’s total goals quote of 2.6-2.8, so spread bettors are advised to sell.

■ Pointers…

England to win to nil 10/11 with Coral

England to win 1-0 at 11/2 with Coral

Sell total goals at 2.6 with Sporting Index