England head to Bulgaria in the knowledge that a win in Sofia on Friday, followed by victory against Wales next Tuesday will take them significantly closer to qualification for Euro 2012 ahead of their final tie away to Montenegro next month.
Fabio Capello's side are level at the top of Group G with nine points from five games but are ahead of Montenegro by virtue of their superior goal difference. A victory in Bulgaria will ensure the 7 Oct. match in Montenegro does not turn into a must-win match.
"The game tomorrow is a very important one," the Italian said. "And we are playing against a side who are playing well at the moment."
The portents are good. England have impressed since last year's World Cup with victories in all matches away from home. The visitors are yet to lose in nine previous encounters with Bulgaria and won 4-0 in the reverse fixture at Wembley in September last year.
"Usually when we play at home, the visiting team have played counter-attacking football and we have found it difficult to play against these teams," Capello said.
"But away, we can play in more space and we have fast players so that's the reason why we sometimes play better away than at home."
The England manager knows tonight's game and the meeting with Wales next Tuesday could all but guarantee their qualification for next summer's tournament.
"Bulgaria and Wales are really important games for us," he said. "We play the last game against Montenegro and need to be top of the group before that one because it will be a really difficult game.
"The stadium, the pitch, the fans will be really strong, which is why we need to do well in our next matches. In our last match against Bulgaria, we played a good game but I remember it well and they got some chances as well.
"They have a lot of quality and are good with free-kicks and shots from distance. In fact, although we scored four goals, we actually had more chances against Montenegro, when we didn't score. It was just that the keeper made the difference."
But Capello knows his side can't afford to be complacent following their 2-2 draw with Switzerland in June. The Italian has called up the uncapped United trio of Chris Smalling, Phil Jones and Tom Cleverly for tonight's game, after they impressed during United's strong start to the season. Smalling is the most likely to start in place of Micah Richards at right-back, while Jones is an outside bet to partner John Terry in central defence ahead of Gary Cahill.
Capello revealed he has been impressed with Smalling's contribution at right-back for United, a position he was previously unfamiliar with.
"He's improved even in the four games he's played there with United, and is playing with confidence," the manager said.
Darren Bent was the only absentee from training on Thursday, as he struggles to recover from a groin problem sustained earlier in the week. In midfield, Capello is expected to name Gareth Barry and Frank Lampard, in the absence of Steven Gerrard and Jack Wilshire, while Andy Carroll is likely to be favoured to partner Wayne Rooney up front.
Probable starting XI: Hart, Smalling, Terry, Cahill, Cole, Lampard, Barry, Parker, Young, Rooney, Carroll. Source: Sky Sports