ENGLAND v ALBANIA
Despite going unbeaten in this 2022 World Cup Qualification (WCQ) campaign, England cannot afford to rest on their laurels as there’s still work to be done. Currently sitting pretty atop Group I, three points ahead of Poland with a +4 goal difference advantage over them, means one more comprehensive victory over Albania in this game or San Marino in the last round should be enough to see the ‘Three Lions’ book their tickets to Qatar 2022.
Manager Gareth Southgate will emphasize their campaign is not over until the fat lady sings, as he takes charge of his 67th England match, the tied-most since Sir Bobby Robson’s departure in 1990. They’ll fancy themselves to get the job done in style as they’ve lost just once in 18 games (to Italy on penalties in the Euro 2020 final), shutting out the opposition in 13 of those, and last lost to a side ranked outside FIFA’s top 50 back in June 2016.
Albania’s push for a spot in a World Cup finals for the first time in their history is still mathematically a possibility, as they’re just two points behind current playoff-spot holders Poland, and five points adrift of their hosts England. They’ll need to make history if they’re to pull it off though, having lost every fixture played against England to date by an aggregate of 14-1 (L5), while also never scoring on English soil against them.Surprisingly though, the ‘Eagles’ have been fearless on their travels this WCQ campaign, winning three (all ‘to nil’) of their four away games (L1), nearly matching their tally in their previous 12 WCQ campaigns combined (W4, D7, L41).
Players to watch: England have won all six games ‘to nil’ in which Jack Grealish has scored or assisted, while Armando Broja has been directly involved in five of Albania’s 11 WCQ goals so far (G:3, A:2).
Hot stat: England have never trailed Albania in their five H2H matches, only ever facing Turkey (11), Andorra (six) and Colombia (six) as often while achieving the same milestone.