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Rupert Wyman 8th Sep 2009 - 17:06

No clowns about this time as England look set to qualify

England were humiliated the last time they played Croatia at Wembley as a 3-2 win for Slaven Bilic's side meant England did not take part in Euro 2008.

Steve McClaren's inglorious reign as England boss came to an end in the rain as he foolishly stood under an umbrella. You can't imagine McClaren's replacement Fabio Capello standing under an umbrella on the touchline and this sums up the difference between England's side then and now.

The Three Lions were a joke under the former Middlesbrough boss but now are a serious outfit who could have a serious chance of going far in South Africa next summer.

A win at Wembley will book their place on the plane and you would be hard pressed to back anything other than an England victory at 4/7, which incidentally would be their eighth consecutive victory in a flawless qualifying campaign.

A shock away win is at 11/2 but even Bilic must realise that this time around England are a much better prospect. After all Capello led his side to a 4-1 hammering of the Croats in Zagreb in just the second match of the campaign.

The Italian though would have been concerned at the ease at which Slovenia on Saturday often found space and as a result had numerous good attacking opportunities. These mistakes will have to be ironed out against a superior Croatian side else England could be punished.

However, Bilic will have to do without Tottenham duo Luka Modric and Vedran Corluka. Both are key to Croatia as Modric is the playmaker and makes them tick plus despite Corluka's often clumsy performances for Spurs he is a key figure at the back for Bilic.

Nevertheless England's defence will have to improve, especially Glen Johnson, otherwise Johnson's former Portsmouth team-mate Niko Kranjcar will be able to profit and set up the prolific Eduardo (9/1 to score first, 10/3 to score anytime) will be able to take advantage and fire Croatia to another win at Wembley.

However, I expect England to put in a truly professional performance and dispatch of Croatia with far fewer errors than were displayed on Saturday. Capello will have reminded his side of complacency and the hard-to-impress boss will be far from pleased if such errors are on show again.

The biggest decision for Capello is whether to stick with the out-of-form yet hard-working Emile Heskey or to pick Jermain Defoe, who is in the form of his life, to partner Wayne Rooney up front.

If it was me I would pick the Tottenham man as he deserves his place after five goals in three substitute appearances, but something tells me Heskey will get the nod as Capello knows that Rooney prefers to play with the unselfish Aston Villa man.

If I am wrong and Defoe does get the start then with the form he is in he is a great looking bet at 11/2 to open the scoring. Rooney, who leads the scoring charts in European qualifying with eight goals, is a 4/1 shot to open the scoring.

A value bet would be Aaron Lennon to get on the scoresheet at any point during the match at 6/1. The winger was much more impressive against Slovenia when he came on than Shaun Wright-Phillips who started the match and as a result he is pushing hard for a starting place.

Lennon, like his Spurs team-mate Defoe, has also started the season in good form and as Theo Walcott showed in Zagreb when scoring a hat-trick, pace can cause much trouble to the Croatian back-line.

A scoreline of 2-1 to England looks the best option in the correct score betting as I can't see England managing to keep a clean sheet as the defence and goalkeeping position still are not completely sorted. This is priced at 7/1.

In England's seven qualifying matches so far, an average of over four goals have been scored in each match, therefore the selection of there being over 2 goals in the total goals market at 8/11 looks a good bet.

Another good looking bet is in the double result market - Draw/England at 3/1. Capello's side have scored most (18 of 26) of their goals after the break in their qualifiers so a draw at half-time is more than plausible.

We will all be hoping that the much-improved England turn up and claim the points and become the second European side to qualify for the World Cup in South Africa, but will they?

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