International football: 10 things to look out for in World Cup 2018 qualifying | Football

1) Should England give Butland a go in Malta?

Those who think a trip to Malta holds no fear for England goalkeepers have clearly not thought back as far as the friendly on 4 June 2000, when Richard Wright made his international bow and promptly conceded two penalties. Wright saved the second of them, making sure of a 2-1 win, but the damage was done and it is never a good sign when as sanguine a soul as Kevin Keegan says your debut “wasn’t as bad as it could have been”. Malta are unlikely to cause too many flutters this time around and if a goalkeeper makes headlines again it would probably be on account of Gareth Southgate shaking things up. He has kept faith in Joe Hart so far but the West Ham loanee has not had the happiest of starts to the season and has not kept a clean sheet in his last 23 club games; it would be a big statement to drop him but this might not be the worst stage on which to remind Tom Heaton or, more likely, Jack Butland that they hold credible claims to the position. At some point England will need to make the change and it would surely do little harm to divide out some of the labour in advance. As long as the video nasty of Wright’s performance is saved until afterwards, it could be a useful confidence boost for either keeper.

2) McGoldrick could give Ireland the spark they need

The Republic of Ireland have Georgia on their minds in a week that will probably be decisive to their hopes of winning Group D. Expectations are high: they have taken maximum points from both their previous visits to Tbilisi, a venue where others have suffered bloody noses in the past, and have won all eight of their previous matches against the Caucasian state. After Saturday’s match is navigated they wait three days to face leaders Serbia at home; it could well be a showdown for automatic qualification, with Wales and Austria currently lagging four points behind the top two, but there is still a sense that Martin O’Neill’s side have to work…

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