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Real Madrid
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By ESPN Staff

McClaren cautious as Macedonia challenge looms

England manager Steve McClaren insists Macedonia are 'no mugs' as he prepares to lead his side in an away fixture for the first time.

He has opened his reign with 4-0 and 5-0 wins over Greece and Andorra but believes anyone expecting such a comfortable ride in Skopje is in for a shock.

'Many people are saying this Macedonia game is another easy game but the key message is `don't underestimate Macedonia',' said McClaren.

'They have won their last three away games, they drew with Holland twice in the last qualifiers so they're no mugs, the pedigree is there for everybody to see.

'They have got a good manager (former Slovenia World Cup coach Srecko Katanec), they are at home and they have had 10 days to prepare.

'But if we play to our full potential we have a chance to win this game.'

McClaren admitted Macedonia had surprised England when the sides first met in a European Championship qualifier at Southampton, in October 2002.

England could only draw 2-2, before winning 2-1 in Macedonia, and McClaren said: 'I remember the first game at St Mary's, they surprised us.

'I missed the (return) game here but I've been speaking to the players who were here and it was a very tough game. We expect the same again tomorrow night.'

Asked about the threat of racist abuse being directed against England's black players from the stands, McClaren added on Sky Sports News: 'I've read that there is big campaign to kick racism out of football and rightly so. We don't want it, Macedonia don't want it and UEFA don't want it.'

McClaren confirmed Rio Ferdinand was to train again as he aims to return to the starting line-up.

Luke Young has suffered an ankle injury and will miss out, but should be available for Charlton at the weekend, while reserve goalkeeper Chris Kirkland has suffered a back spasm and did not travel to Macedonia.

Some of England's players were racially abused by sections of the crowd on their last visit to Macedonia, but McClaren claimed he was happy to leave any problems with European football's governing body.

'I have to leave it to UEFA and get on with the football match,' he told a press conference.

Steven Gerrard will earn his 50th cap in Skopje tomorrow and the England head coach paid tribute to a 'fantastic player'.

'He has got better and better. His performances at Liverpool have been a platform to spring from and become a great player. You have to prove that on the international stage and he's doing that.

'He can turn a football match, win a football match... the defining moment we call it.'

McClaren also called on his players to be strong in what is expected to be a hostile atmosphere.

'We need all the leaders we can. John Terry is integral, that's why he's captain - he's doing a great job.'

The confident Yorkshireman, who expects his players 'to deal with whatever is being thrown at them', also revealed: 'We expect to win this game.

'They (qualifying matches) are all tough believe you me. Mental toughness gets you through this. It is another step along the way.'

He added: 'You have to respect opponents, identify their weaknesses and nullify their strengths.'