Article by Chris Johns
Interviews by Angelo Palmeri
England boss Roy Hodgson has said that he expects Estonia to pose a sterner test than than San Marino did on Thursday night, after they duly dispatched of FIFA's lowest-ranked team 5-0. The result didn't stop the typically over-expectant English press suggesting the nation should be disappointed with the result, however, but Hodgson seems to be building a side capable of doing a professional job, rather than one that will set the world alight.
When asked in Tallinn, during the evening press conference, about the possibility of winning all 10 games in Group E, Roy replied that it is hard to say what is realistic.
England are currently a team in transition, with a number of high profile players announcing their retirements over the summer, and Hodgson has not been shy in handing debuts to a number of promising players. He rotated his squad a little against the European minnows on Thursday, and is likely to do so again here.
What does he think about playing minnows? ‘It’s something for UEFA to ponder about’ Roy told the Estonian press concerned their home country might be excluded from taking on bigger sides one day ‘but it doesn’t bother me.’ He added the issue might create others from a logistical and moral point of view.
Wayne Rooney put his domestic suspension to the back of his mind against San Marino, and he should line up alongside Danny Welbeck, with Daniel Sturridge not in the squad due to a much-discussed injury he picked up on international duty in September. Both strikers were on the score sheet in midweek and their recent form is something for England fans to be positive about.
The biggest issue put forward was the two games close to each other in the new qualifiers format. Nothing that seems to concern Wayne Rooney: ‘I have been used to playing every two days with Manchester United’ the England captain said confidently. However, he assured the audience England won’t be overconfident before this game.
Roy Hodgson explained why England did not train at the A.LeCoq Arena and the just strolled around with each other: ‘there's been too little time’ explained the England gaffer ‘and due to the time difference we decided not to train here (Estonia is two hours ahead of GMT –edit).’ Roy has no doubt that the pitch will be good. Obviously he wouldn’t have complained if he'd had more time: ‘if you ask me, I would have preferred a bit more time than only two days.’
Liverpool attacker Raheem Sterling has been the focus of an unusual amount of attention in recent weeks, with Anfied boss Brendan Rodgers doing his best to 'protect' Sterling from over-playing. He was indeed protected on Thursday, being substituted at half time, but he is likely to start against Estonia just in behind the front two.
He was seen strolling together with Roy Hodgson on the A.LeCoq grass and this obviously caused speculation in the press area. How did Roy react to them? ‘It’s not an unusual thing to do, I’ll let the speculation run.’ No hint whatsoever was given about the starting XI as Hodgson will give that when he makes the team talk he hasn’t had time to make yet.
England's new 4-4-2 diamond formation should see Jordan Henderson start, with Hodgon to decide between width (Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Adam Lallana) or something a little more compact (Fabian Delph and James Milner) in the centre. The former is more likely, and more in keeping with England's style of play. Jack Wilshere is also pushing for a start, and is likely to feature if Hodgson's goes for the more compact setup in midfield.
At the back, Calum Chambers replaced the injured John Stones on Thursday and is likely to continue, with Leighton Baines to come back in at left back in place of Kieran Gibbs, who was given a run-out against San Marino. Phil Jagielka and Gary Cahill will be the bedrock of the defence in front of keeper Joe Hart.
England will be looking to get at Estonia from the off, with Roy Hodgson describing them as 'Scandinavian' in their approach in terms of organisation.
Upon being asked whether he'd had a chat with Brian Talbot (scout at Fulham – our exclusive story here) regarding the strengths and weaknesses of Estonia, he replied as follows: ‘Brian works for Fulham, at every game of Estonia we had our scouts and we have videos. From this point we have no excuses.’
It is unlikely that England will be afforded the time and space they were able to take for granted against San Marino, but a high-tempo performance full of pace and width will probably see them through.
Chris Johns and Angelo Palmeri from Tallinn