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The idea of having four right-backs doesn’t seem so insane now, does it, Mr. Corrigan? England might have beaten Austria 1-0 on Wednesday, but at what cost? Trent Alexander-Arnold, one of the most creative players at Gareth Southgate’s disposal, hobbled off and will miss the European Championships.
But there’s no time for tears, as England have to complete their on-field preparations for Euro 2020 with a match against Romania at the Riverside Stadium on Sunday evening. If you’re of a certain (middle) age like me, memories of clashes with Romania bring you out in a cold sweat.
At France 1998, England equalised through Michael Owen in the 81st minute but still found time to lose thanks to goal from Chelsea’s Dan Petrescu, the only footballer ever named after a Channel 4 daytime show. Worse was to come two years later, when Phil Neville conceded a late penalty which handed the Romanians a 3-2 victory and condemned England to a Group Stage exit at Euro 2000.
Among teams whom they have faced more than twice, only Brazil have a better points-per-game record against the Three Lions than Romania, with the eastern Europeans having won three, drawn six and lost only two of the meetings. However, the days of a Romanian side with bleached blonde hair being led by Gheorghe Hagi (who played for both Real Madrid and Barcelona) are a long way in the past.
Remember Vlad Chiriches who you thought was rubbish for Spurs? He’s their captain now. In June 2000, when these teams last met, Romania were rated by FIFA as the 11th best international team in the world, yet these days they aren’t even in the top 20 in Europe. They haven’t been to the World Cup since 1998 and their two appearances at the Euros since 2000 have ended in Group Stage exits.
If their form from the qualifying process for Euro 2020 is any guide, Romania can be relied upon to meet expectations. They were seeded fourth in the draw and finished fourth in the group.
But they carried this consistency out to an almost absurd level. Their four wins came against the teams drawn from pots five and six, they drew home and away with pot three Norway, and lost all four matches with Spain and Sweden. A bettor’s delight in the tricky realm of international football, in other words.
Sunday 5pm: England v Romania
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Despite that, they were somehow in pot two for the latest round of World Cup qualifying and, with an eye on predicting their tussle with England, it’s worth noting they lost 1-0 at home to Germany in March. Romania haven’t played too many other matches against Europe’s traditional big guns in recent years.
Prior to their 1-7 aggregate qualifying match up with the Spanish, they lost 3-0 to Netherlands in 2017 and 2-1 to France at the Euros the year before. They have little to play for here so England should Win easily enough.
With Romania light on goals in matches against Europe’s top teams in recent years, the home side should be capable of keeping a clean sheet here. Especially as they’ll be playing a right-back who isn’t a defensive liability, right?
In the Southgate era, England have played six home matches against nations who are currently ranked between 26th and 50th in the world – Romania are 43rd, fact fans – and they have only conceded two goals. The Three Lions have also kept a clean sheet in their last six friendlies, so they can make it a magnificent seven with a shut out here and Both Teams To Score? No clicking.
This feels like a fixture which will play out in a similar fashion to the friendly with Austria. One side will be happy to avoid a hiding and the other won’t be going at full tilt as they look to protect themselves for the real business which starts seven days later.
Southgate is certain to give key players a breather in the second half too, which will only see the game peter out. By predicting Under 2.5 Goals I’ve painted myself into an ‘England to win 1 or 2-0’ corner, but that sounds about right, wouldn’t you say?
England played two friendlies ahead of the last World Cup, and they deployed far closer to their tournament starting XI for the first fixture. But the opposite will be true here, with the European finalist players from Chelsea and the two Manchester clubs back in the fold.
Mason Mount should be buzzing after assisting the winning goal in the Champions league final, and he is England’s second top scorer this season behind Dominic Calvert-Lewin. With the Everton man likely to be on the bench, Mount can Score Anytime to complete our Bet Builder choices.
England v Romania Bet Builder:
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