Albania v England
Sunday 28 March 17:00 BST
Live on ITV
Albania offer a step up from San Marino
From the worst team in the world on official rankings in San Marino, England now take a huge step up in class for the trip to Tirana to face 66th-ranked Albania – who also kicked-off their campaign with a victory.
In a nice piece of footballing symmetry this game will be played exactly 20 years to the day since the Three Lions last played in Albania, but this time there will be no home fans in attendance with the late decision taken to continue with games behind closed doors.
The hosts should prove a much tougher nut to crack than San Marino – with Albania winning their last four games and sitting on a six-game unbeaten run.
Edoardo Reja’s side don’t often suffer heavy defeats at all, even less so at home, where they’ve only lost by more than two goals in two competitive games in the last five years – and even then they had a man sent off early in a 4-0 defeat to Scotland and two men dismissed in a 3-0 reverse to Israel.
Different options for Southgate’s England
We can’t draw too many conclusions from a 5-0 win over San Marino obviously but there were still plenty of positives for Gareth Southgate – with only a very slight negative that England didn’t score more goals with the amount of chances they created.
The Three Lions will need to be a bit more clinical against an Albania side who have made France, Turkey, Norway, Italy and Spain work hard to grind out 1-0 or 2-0 wins over the last couple of qualifying campaigns.
England have won all four previous meetings, by an aggregate of 12-1, and considering all five of Albania’s home losses in the last two qualifying campaigns have come without them scoring it’s very much fancied that it’ll be another clean sheet for the visitors.
Qualifying isn’t really an issue for Southgate, but he still has selection challenges in terms of finding out his best way of playing while managing minutes of his top stars.
Harry Kane, with goals in each of his last seven away qualifying matches, should return for a side who have bagged 42 goals in their last nine qualifiers, scoring five or more in six of those. They may have to settle for one or two less against Albania but it should still be a largely routine victory.
Goals harder to come by
Compared to San Marino, Albania are a short-priced 1211/1 to spring an almighty upset victory here, with the draw 5.59/2 and the expected England win coming in at 1.251/4.
Over 2.5 goals landed in just half of Albania’s qualifying games for Euro 2020, and given England’s return of just one goal in their last three away games (albeit to Belgium, Denmark and Iceland) there’s enough there to suggest unders may be the way to go – even as the outsider of the two at 1.910/11.
Southgate has so many attacking options though, and performances from Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Ollie Watkins, Jesse Lingard and James Ward-Prowse means there is genuine competition for places – ensuring that whoever plays will want to impress right through to the final whistle.
England and under 3.5 goals at 1.84/5 is therefore a more comfortable play than England and under 2.5 at 2.89/5, which will still prove popular but has too much of a risk factor for me. With England’s depth of talent and that aforementioned competition for places, hungry young subs could easily bag a few late goals.
At the other end, if Nick Pope plays he could make history and become the first England keeper ever to concede no goals in his first six appearances. England are 1.625/8 to keep a clean sheet, which given Albania’s record against bigger teams seems pretty well assured.
An England win to nil, therefore, is one of the better bets around for this game at 1.84/5
Back England to be ahead at the break
Albania are tough, but the likes of France, Turkey and Scotland have scored first half goals and England are well used to being ahead at half-time with 11 of their last 15 qualifying wins coming after heading into the break in front.
The Three Lions are 1.834/5 on the half-time/full-time market and worth an investment.
England have also scored in both halves in eight of their last nine wins and, as discussed, there shouldn’t be too much drop-off later in the game due to the quality of replacements.
That leads us to England scoring in both halves at 2.111/10 – and given we already feel Albania won’t score then 2.89/5 on England winning both halves then comes right into play.