2014 FIFA World Cup qualifiers: England and Lambert face toughest test
London: Rickie Lambert`s improbable Roy of the Rovers-style rise to international stardom faces its sternest test yet in Kiev on Tuesday when England can take a significant step towards World Cup qualification against Ukraine.
On a busy night of World Cup action, a number of leading European nations could also do their chances of booking their ticket to Brazil next year a power of good.
Not least among them are Italy, who take on chief rivals the Czech Republic in Turin in Group B, while in Group C Germany could all but clinch their place with victory in Torshavn over the lowly Faroe Islands and France could put pressure on Spain at the top of Group I with victory over Belarus in Gomel.
The Netherlands should also book their place on their travels to little Andorra in Group D, Russia can go back to the top of Group F with victory over Israel in St Petersburg and Norway can close the gap on Group E leaders Switzerland when they meet in Oslo.
On the other side of the Atlantic, the key South American matches see Uruguay entertain Colombia in Montevideo and Paraguay host favourites Argentina in Asuncion while in the CONCACAF Zone, Honduras, fresh from their exploits in Mexico take on Panama while the manager-less Mexicans go to Columbus, Ohio, to take on the United States.
In Kiev, Lambert`s fledgling England career, which has seen him score in each of his first two appearances, will come up against the grit of a Ukraine defence which has only conceded four goals in seven games to leave them a point behind England and Montenegro, who have played a game more.
Much will rest on the shoulders of the Southampton striker, at 31 a late starter at the top level, as he will have little in the way of support up front now that Manchester United`s Danny Welbeck is suspended after Friday night`s 4-0 romp against Moldova and Liverpool`s Daniel Sturridge will not travel due to injury.
Italy, who stretched their lead at the top of their group to seven points with a largely unconvincing 1-0 win over Bulgaria in Palermo, have lost full backs Ignazio Abate and Luca Antonelli to injury but can secure their place in Brazil with a win over the third-placed Czechs.
Argentina should have few problems against Paraguay, who have slumped to second-from-bottom, but Colombia, who have moved level on points at the top will be ready to capitalise on any slip-up when they go to Montevideo for the clash against Uruguay, have also seen their hopes of automatic qualification take a nosedive after a promising start.
Jose Manuel de la Torre was sacked as manager of Mexico hours after his side`s embarrassing 2-1 home defeat by Honduras in a World Cup qualifier.
The defeat -- which marked just the second time Mexico had lost a World Cup qualifier at home -- saw them slip to fourth in the six-nation North and Central America and Caribbean final qualifying group, with only the top three teams earning direct entry to the finals in Brazil next year.
But in Columbus, the Americans will be without three suspended players, including striker Jozy Altidore.
Key midfielder Michael Bradley has also been ruled out against Mexico because of a sprained left ankle, suffered in the warm-up prior to Friday`s 3-1 loss to Costa Rica and he was forced to watch the game from the sidelines.
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