World Cup Qualifier: England v Lithuania Preview

Gareth SouthgateEngland can build on a positive performance against Germany when they take on Lithuania in what should be a straightforward 2018 World Cup qualifying fixture this weekend (5pm Sunday, live on ITV1).

Manager Gareth Southgate’s side were narrowly defeated 1-0 by the reigning world champions on Wednesday night. A stunning strike from Lukas Podolski, who was making his farewell appearance for the national team, settled the friendly in the hosts’ favour in Dortmund.

The Three Lions played well on the night and could easily have been ahead before Podolski’s second-half winner had they been a little more clinical in front of goal. England pressed well, looked comfortable in possession and genuinely troubled the Germans at times, although it should be noted that Joachim Low left out many of the players who would presumably be included in his first-choice starting XI. Nevertheless, it was pleasing to see England turn in a display of such technical and tactical aptitude, even if the tactics of their upcoming opponents will make it difficult for Southgate’s men to produce a similar showing at Wembley on Sunday evening.

Attention now turns to World Cup qualification, with England looking to add to the 10 points they have amassed in the campaign so far. That tally is enough to put them on top of the Group F table after four fixtures. Even at this early stage, it is difficult to see Slovenia, Slovakia, Scotland, Malta or Lithuania climbing above the one-time world champions to take the segment’s sole automatic qualification spot.

In a way, the entire qualification process is something of a lose-lose situation for Southgate. Even if England are victorious in all their remaining fixtures on the road to Russia, recent experience has taught supporters to be sceptical of results and performances that take place outside of the confines of a major tournament.

England lined up in a 3-4-3 formation against Germany and will probably stick with the same system here, although there is likely to be a number of changes in personnel. For a start, Gary Cahill is suspended and will therefore play no part, with John Stones set to replace the Chelsea man in the three-man backline, while Raheem Sterling will also hope to feature from the start. Jake Livermore was excellent in midweek but could make way for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in midfield, while Marcus Rashford and Jamie Vardy will compete for the central striking role.

There are no household names within the Lithuania squad, and the focus of head coach Edgaras Jankauskas will undoubtedly be on organisation and discipline as his team look to frustrate the hosts at Wembley. The Lithuanians, who are still awaiting their tournament debut, have won one, drawn two and lost one of their four fixtures so far. They were also in action on Wednesday night, losing 3-0 to the Czech Republic in a friendly. Captain Fiodor Cernych is the chief goal threat up front, Arvydas Novikovas will work hard in midfield and goalkeeper Ernestas Setkus will almost certainly be in for a busy evening between the sticks.

The question ahead of Sunday’s game is not so much who will win (England are 1/9 to prevail with the majority of top bookmakers), but rather what the margin of victory will be. Indeed, it would be a major shock if the Three Lions did not ease to the three points in front of their own supporters at Wembley, and it would not be at all surprising to see the Lithuanians on the end of a thrashing. As for our match betting tips, a home triumph in a match featuring more than 4.5 goals in total (best 3/1 Betfair) is an appealing betting option that this preview recommends. Dele Alli would be a sensible selection in the anytime scorer market (11/10 Bet365 or Betfred).

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