Moldova v England preview
Rooney and Carroll absent; Baines to step in for Cole
By Rachel Griffiths - Follow me on Twitter @SkySportsRachG. Last Updated: September 7, 2012 3:28pm
Roy Hodgson's England embark on the road to Brazil on Friday night when they kick off their World Cup 2014 qualifying campaign against Moldova in Chisinau.
After a summer which saw them suffer the familiar heartache of failing to progress past the quarter-final stage of a major tournament at Euro 2012, England will be keen to wipe the slate clean and start on a positive note against their eastern-European hosts.
Hodgson's men will look to pick up an opening three points against Moldova, ranked 48th of 53 in UEFA's European standings, before taking on Euro group opponents Ukraine at Wembley next Tuesday in their second Group H game.
The latest FIFA standings released earlier this week revealed England still sit third in the world rankings and anything less than a maximum haul against the minnows will be viewed as little short of disaster, even with a raft of Hodgson's key players absent through injury.
The Three Lions' hold a 100 per cent record in their previous two games against Moldova after beating them twice in qualifiers for the 1998 World Cup, winning 4-0 at Wembley before easing to a 3-0 triumph in Chisinau.
The latter of those encounters saw a young David Beckham make his international debut in Glenn Hoddle's first game in charge as manager.
Much has changed in England's personnel since that clash in September 1996 but the Three Lions will be hoping for a similar result as they bid to emulate their last qualifying campaign for Euro 2012, which they finished unbeaten, in a pool which also contains Poland, Montenegro and San Marino.
The absence of the injured Wayne Rooney (leg) and Andy Carroll (hamstring) means Hodgson has a decision to make regarding who will lead the line at the Zimbru Stadium, with Danny Welbeck, Jermain Defoe and Daniel Sturridge vying to start.
The manager leant on Manchester United youngster Welbeck in Rooney's absence through suspension at the Euros, but Defoe repaid his faith with a goal when he was started in last month's friendly win over Italy and could be called on again in what would be his 50th England appearance.
Hodgson also has a call to make at the back over who should partner John Terry in central defence should he recover fitness, having missed Chelsea's most recent game against Newcastle with a neck problem.
Joleon Lescott, Gary Cahill and the in-form Phil Jagielka are all in contention to start alongside the Blues captain, while Leighton Baines is likely to step in on the left for Ashley Cole, who is out with an ankle problem, denying the 98-capped defender the chance to step closer to his century of England appearances.
Widemen Ashley Young (knee) and Adam Johnson (thigh) are also missing, meaning Hodgson could call on teenage winger Alex Oxlade Chamberlain, with Theo Walcott and James Milner also in contention.
Michael Carrick made himself unavailable for selection for Euro 2012 but is back in the fold and could start, while captain Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard could be fielded together for the first time in a competitive game since England were mauled 4-1 by Germany at the 2010 World Cup.
Moldova manager Ion Caras, meanwhile, has no injury concerns in his squad and is expected to field a strong side.
Possible starting XIs:
England: Hart, Johnson, Terry, Cahill, Baines, Carrick, Lampard, Walcott, Gerrard, Milner, Defoe.
Moldova: Namasco, Bulgaru, Racu, Epureanu, Armas, Gatcan, Patras, Covalciuc, Onica, Doros, Picusciac.