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Last Updated: Thursday, 7 June 2007, 12:02 GMT 13:02 UK
Will England qualify for Euro 2008?
By Paul Fletcher

Joe Cole celebrates scoring during the 3-0 win in Estonia on 6 June
Joe Cole's goal set England on their way to victory in Estonia - but was it the start of a good run of form?

Euro 2008 in Austria and Switzerland starts in exactly one year - with the opening fixture taking place in Basle on 7 June.

But the burning question for all England fans is will Steve McClaren's team qualify for the tournament?

Having beaten Estonia on Wednesday, England are fourth in Group E, three points behind leaders Croatia.

This is how the table stands:

P W D L Pts
Croatia 7 5 2 0 17
Israel 8 5 2 1 17
Russia 7 4 3 0 15
England 7 4 2 1 14
Macedonia 7 2 1 4 7
Estonia 7 0 0 7 0
Andorra 6 0 0 6 0

McClaren's team have five games left with the coach at pains to stress that four of them are at Wembley.

Predictions are fraught with danger - just ask Lawro - but here is how I think qualifying in Group E will unfold, with my final table at the bottom.

AUGUST

Just one game in August and, let's be frank, Estonia entertaining Andorra is not going to impact on matters at the top of the table.

AUGUST PREDICTION
22/8: Estonia 2-0 Andorra

Estonia, who lost 3-0 to an England side rejuvenated by David Beckham in June, win the battle of the whipping boys, picking up a 2-0 victory.

SEPTEMBER

Two absolutely crunch dates in September, with the top four all in action on 8 September and Croatia, Russia and England back on the pitch four days later.

SEPTEMBER PREDICTIONS
8/9: England 2-1 Israel
8/9: Russia 1-0 Macedonia
8/9: Croatia 3-0 Estonia
12/9: Andorra 0-4 Croatia
12/9: Macedonia 2-0 Estonia
12/9: England 1-0 Russia

England atone for their listless, laboured and goalless performance in Tel Aviv with victory over Israel in their first competitive fixture at the new Wembley on 8 September.

But Russia, under the shrewd stewardship of Guus Hiddink, beat Macedonia at home and Slaven Bilic's Croatia make light work of Estonia at home on the same night.

Israel, having played a game more than the big hitters, don't have a fixture on 12 September and their hopes of qualifying suffer when both England and Croatia win again.

606: DEBATE

Nobody is remotely surprised that the technically adept Croats brush aside Andorra but for lengthy periods at Wembley England's game with Russia could go either way.

It is a tense encounter with signs once again of McClaren's team suffering stage fright.

But, just when it seems as though England are going to fluff their lines, up pops Michael Owen with a poacher's finish to save his coach's blushes. How often have we seen that over the years?

It is a crucial victory against a team who concede only their second goal in nine qualifying games.

As Russia coach Hiddink looks around the packed Wembley the thought crosses his mind that he might have been stood in the home team's dugout had events panned out differently.

OCTOBER

England are the only Group E team with two qualifying fixtures in October - and their home game against Estonia presents no problems.

McClaren's team build on a 2-0 half-time lead to finish the game 5-0 winners in front of a buoyant Wembley crowd.

OCTOBER PREDICTIONS
13/10: England 5-0 Estonia
17/10: Croatia 2-1 Israel
17/10: Macedonia 2-0 Andorra
17/10: Russia 0-0 England

It is two more goals than Croatia managed at home to Estonia in September and the England coach's constant emphasis several months earlier on the importance of a series of home games is starting to look like shrewd thinking.

What's more, England have not conceded a goal in five games and their fortunes appear to have changed dramatically since Gary Neville's backpass hit a divot and looped over Paul Robinson's foot during the defeat in Croatia back in October 2006.

It is not so easy in the cold of Russia on 17 October, England pick up a valuable point.

Israel move even further out of the picture with a 2-1 defeat in Croatia.

David Beckham (left) celebrates an England goal with Michael Owen
Beckham provides England's strikers with quality service

England have closed the gap on Croatia to just two points - but McClaren's team, with 24 points, have just one game left whereas Bilic's team have two remaining fixtures.

But of huge significance is the situation beneath England.

Third-placed Russia have 19 points with two games left and Israel, in fourth, have 17.

Only Hiddink's Russia can prevent McClaren's team from claiming second place in the group at the very least - and with it passage to Euro 2008.

NOVEMBER

Steve McClaren does not travel to Israel for their fixture with Russia but he watches the match on television knowing full well that even a draw for the home team will be enough to guarantee qualification for his team.

But Russia coach Hiddink - who took South Korea to the last four at the 2002 World Cup and Australia to the second round in Germany four years later - is a canny operator and his team snatch a 2-1 win.

NOVEMBER PREDICTIONS
17/11: Macedonia 0-3 Croatia
17/11: Israel 1-2 Russia
17/11: Andorra 1-2 Estonia
21/11:England 1-0 Croatia
21/11: Israel 2-0 Macedonia
21/11: Andorra 0-3 Russia

Croatia, meanwhile, have been the form team in the group - any hopes that they would fall away after a bright start have not materialised - and they secure first place with a confident display in Macedonia, winning 3-0.

Andorra, against whom England laboured so badly when they met in Barcelona earlier in the year, blow their realistic chance of winning a game in losing 2-1 to Estonia.

Still, at least they manage to score just their second goal of the campaign.

The final round of qualifying games takes place on 21 November - and England know that with Russia just two points behind them there is still everything to play for.

Russia do all they can - beating Andorra 3-0 - but it is at Wembley where the real drama takes place.

England coach Steve McClaren
When nervous McClaren tends to looks at his watch

A clearly tense McClaren pulls back the sleeve on his perfectly creased FA blazer and looks down at his watch time after time after time.

Frequent discussions take place with assistant Terry Venables, who once again emits the body language of someone who has more fun at the dentist.

Bilic, with his team already assured of top spot, cuts a sharp contrast, determined but relaxed as he watches from his seat in the dugout.

Similarly, Bilic's team are able to express themselves with the freedom of a team who have already qualified.

A series of last-ditch tackles from John Terry and a superb defensive display from Steven Gerrard ensures the match does not turn into a real horror show for McClaren.

Ultimately, however, England's extra desire count for something and a scrambled header from a David Beckham corner gives the home team a crucial victory.

Basking in the glow of qualification, McClaren insists the real tests will come in Austria and Switzerland next June but he cannot resist the odd friendly dig at the assembled media who laid into him when his team played poorly several months ago, all done with a smile on his face of course.

Here is how I think the group will finish:

P W D L Pts
Croatia 12 9 2 1 29
England 12 8 3 1 27
Russia 12 7 4 1 25
Israel 12 6 2 4 20
Macedonia 12 4 1 7 13
Estonia 12 2 0 10 6
Andorra 12 0 0 12 0



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