England manager Roy Hodgson has several issues to resolve before next year’s World Cup in Brazil, and Friday’s international friendly against Chile gives him the chance to experiment.
It is only 31 days since Steven Gerrard slid on his knees in a corner of Wembley to acclaim England’s passage to Brazil next summer, but in footballing terms the World Cup is just around the corner, writes John Anderson.
After tonight’s game against Chile and Tuesday’s clash with Germany, Roy Hodgson will have just 360 minutes of football in which to fine-tune the squad for the finals. A March home game with Denmark will be followed by a Wembley send-off in May and then back to back warm-up games in America before England fly out to their Rio training camp at the Urca military base, in the shadow of Sugarloaf mountain.
Even if the group stage draw on 6 December is kind, it is unlikely that Hodgson’s men will be among the pre-tournament favourites anywhere beyond your local bookies. The England boss has a number of issues to address and not a great deal of time to address them.
First and foremost is the worrying form of goalkeeper Joe Hart, who is appearing in more shampoo ads than Manchester City shirts at the moment. Unlike Manuel Pellegrini, Hodgson has kept faith with his No.1 so far, but the Chile game offers an opportunity to give vital international experience to his current understudies.
The England coach is expected to give a first cap to Celtic’s Fraser Forster, who has been impressive in the Champions League, and may also throw on Norwich’s John Ruddy, whose international career consists of 45 minutes as a substitute against Italy 15 months ago. Hart is expected to return on Tuesday to face the likes of Mirolslav Klose, Thomas Muller and Mesut Ozil.
There is a nagging doubt about England’s defensive unit, especially at centre half, where Jagielka and Cahill often appear to be a marriage of convenience.
Although England only conceded one goal in the last four qualifying matches, there persists a nagging doubt about the genuine quality of the defensive unit, especially at centre half where Phil Jagielka and Gary Cahill often appear to be a marriage of convenience following the national team’s messy divorce from Rio Ferdinand and John Terry.
Manchester United teammates Phil Jones and Chris Smalling, both impressive in the weekend win over Arsenal, could be assessed as an international pairing, while Ashley Cole’s demotion to the Chelsea bench against West Brom adds further fuel to the belief that Leighton Baines should now be first-choice left back.
With Gerrard out injured, Frank Lampard (pictured above right) will captain the side tonight to celebrate the passing of 100 caps in a midfield which also has scope for experiment. Andros Townsend deserves the chance to continue his fairytale start, and it might also be worth a look at Everton teenager Ross Barkley or Liverpool’s in-form Jordan Henderson as an alternative to the currently less than stratospheric Jack Wilshere.
There’s also the possibility that a few Saints could go marching in, with Southampton’s Adam Lallana and Jay Rodriguez enjoying the time of their lives at St Mary’s.
Like their narrow ribbon of land, Chile’s record against England is long and unforgiving.
Plenty, then, for Hodgson to ponder, although he won’t throw caution to the wind against a Chile side who have also qualified for the World Cup and who boast the talents and experience of Barcelona’s Alexis Sanchez, Matias Fernandez of Fiorentina and the Cardiff midfield enforcer Gary Medel.
Like their narrow ribbon of land which stretches over 2,600 miles southwards from the Peruvian border down to icy Antarctic waters, Chile’s record against England is long and unforgiving. Tonight will be only the sixth meeting between the nations and the first since a Marcelo Salas (pictured above left) double sunk England in another World Cup warm-up match in 1998.
Incredibly, England have failed to score against the South Americans in over 60 years. Nat Lofthouse was the last to do so in a 2-1 win back in 1953. Hodgson was just six years olds at the time, and now he has the chance to give players in the spring of their careers the chance to blossom. The summer will come quicker than you think.
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