In Europe, the big deal centers around who isn't playing, rather than who is. John Terry is out for England against Kazakhstan at Wembley tomorrow and Belarus in Minsk on Wednesday, while Henrik Larsson will miss Sweden's match with Portugal and Gianluigi Buffon and Mauro Camoranesi are on the bench for Italy against Bulgaria and Montenegro.
Big names, but is it a big deal?
Terry has a bad back and this forces Fabio Capello to insert a newbie alongside Rio Ferdinand in the middle of the England defense. Matthew Upson, Joleon Lescott and Wes Brown are the trio from which Capello will choose. Terry has been ailing for a while; he played limited minutes against Cluj in the Champions League for Chelsea, and played with a brace against Aston Villa.
Luckily for England, it should be able to handle Kazakhstan sans Mr. Terry; but haven't we heard that before? Emile Heskey is also shaky for England with, yes, a bad back, despite his promise to complement Wayne Rooney up front. You'll remember, Capello went for Heskey over Michael Owen, a standard among English strikers and a favorite of previous regimes.
As for Terry's spot, Lescott seems to have the nod, but his case isn't a superb one. He's in the middle of an Everton defense that has conceded 16 goals so far. One more note, England has lost just one competitive match with Terry in the Starting Eleven; four of nine without him.
Other games of note:
- Germany hosts Russia
- Poland hosts the Czech Republic
- Romania hosts France
- Estonia hosts Spain
In South America, where the top four automatically qualify for South Africa, the logjam tie for second between Brazil, Argentina and Chile figures to continue as all three play teams lower in the table. Argentina is the only team staying home, it hosts Uruguay, while Brazil travels to Venezuela and Chile to Ecuador. Leaders Paraguay are at Colombia; Paraguay leads with 17 points, four more than Brazil, Argentina and Chile.