Last week a lot of people described the England vs Scotland game as a meaningless friendly. 90,000 inside Wembley didn’t get the message. Nor did Roy Hodgson, who left his first 11, Jack Wilshere aside, out for the best part of an hour before ringing the usual friendly changes.
And Rickie Lambert’s postman must’ve been slacking too. It was a great advert for the international game, the best friendly I’ve seen since Michael Owen’s injury time double sunk the old enemy Argentina 3-2 in Geneva on the eve of the 2006 World Cup
This is World Cup year. Which means international football is about to be flung back into the limelight. And assuming they qualify, England’s stars will be busting a gut every week, desperate to prove they deserve to go to Brazil. With less than 12 months to go, who’s on the plane, who’s got work to do, and who could be an outside bet for the squad?
Joe Hart- Showed some alarmingly poor form of late with a clanger against Scotland the latest in a line of embarrassing errors.
Nonetheless, our only world-class keeper and to his credit tends to step up in the big games (brilliant in Champions League clashes with Madrid and Dortmund). Barring injury will go as number 1. ON THE PLANE
Ben Foster- Recently made himself available for international selection again and has a good relationship with Hodgson from West Brom days. If he maintains form he should go as at least the number 3. ON THE PLANE
Jack Butland- Shows huge promise and has experience of international tournaments with the under 21’s and last year’s Olympics. Much depends however on how much game time he gets. WORK TO DO.
John Ruddy- More experienced, safe pair of hands at club level but international experience is limited. Will probably do battle with Butland and Foster for the two spaces behind Hart. WORK TO DO.
Such is the fragility of the goalkeeping position with regards to form and injury that a whole host of players could be seen to have an outside chance of making the squad. Fraser Forster and Alex McCarthy both featured in recent squads and will hope that strong seasons for Celtic and Reading respectively could see them claim a spot in the squad.
Kyle Walker- A player whose development hasn’t been quite as swift as was first predicted. Personally think his positional play isn’t great although his pace usually allows him to recover and he offers a great engine going forward.
The right back spot is very open and competitive though and the lack of a truly world class candidate means no one is guaranteed their spot. WORK TO DO.
Glen Johnson- The most experienced of England’s options at right back. Like Walker question marks remain about his defensive play but certainly contributes at the other end of the pitch. Needs a consistent, injury-free season to make the right back spot his own. WORK TO DO.
Phil Jones- Still hailed as England’s most exciting defensive prospect and should get more playing time this season as Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic continue to age. Versatility means he can play at right back, centre half or even in midfield and that will probably be the deciding factor in his inclusion. ON THE PLANE.
Gary Cahill- Still makes the odd mistake and was fooled alarmingly easily by Kenny Miller for Scotland’s second goal. Move to Chelsea certainly helped his international career and a good performance against Robert Lewandowski when Poland come to Wembley would cement his place as England’s first choice centre back. ON THE PLANE.
Phil Jageilka- Very consistent for Everton but partnership with Cahill has looked patchy at times, probably down to the similarity of their playing styles. Should make the squad but real battle comes in cementing a starting spot. ON THE PLANE.
Chris Smalling- Like club mate Jones, versatility could prove a key factor if he’s included. Has struggled for fitness and will be only too aware of the abundance of other centre back options such as Joleon Lescott and Steven Caulker. WORK TO DO.
Ashley Cole- Place in the England XI is under threat for the first time but certainly no debate over his inclusion in the squad. Experience of big games both internationally and at club level will be vital. Still one of the world’s best. ON THE PLANE.
Leighton Baines- The emergence of Leighton Baines means that left back is probably the only position where England have genuinely world class options. His set piece threat could well give him the edge over rival Cole. ON THE PLANE.
At right back outside bets include Carl Jenkinson who will hope to take advantage of Bacary Sagna’s injury to get a run of games for Arsenal, while his team mate Kieran Gibbs and Chelsea’s Ryan Bertrand will hope to take advantage of any injury to Baines or Cole on the other flank.
At centre half a range of options include the afore mentioned Lescott and Caulker, as well as the experienced Michael Dawson or Stoke’s Ryan Shawcross.
James Milner- Solid, versatile, dependable and runs his socks off. Unspectacular but gives his all for his country and offers a more defensive option to support a potentially attack minded right back or to come on and close a game out. A player Hodgson clearly likes. ON THE PLANE.
Steven Gerrard- Not the raging box-to-box midfielder he once was but still more than worthy of his place in the side and the captain’s armband. His delivery is pin-point and can make a telling contribution in the goals department. When fit, still the first name on the team sheet. ON THE PLANE.
Jack Wilshere- England’s golden boy, if he stays fit he could be one of the stars of the World Cup. Never panics on the ball and always looks forward. England look a different side with him in it and partnership with Gerrard will be key in taking a fearless approach against the bigger nations. ON THE PLANE.
Tom Cleverley- Another youngster who could be a different player by the time the World Cup comes around next June. Often gets criticism and you do wonder whether he would be in the squad if he played for Stoke City. Nonetheless, another one who Hodgson seems to call upon whenever available and barring a big drop in form should make the squad. ON THE PLANE.
Michael Carrick- For so long unsung, he finally came to the fore in helping United to the title last season and would’ve played some role against Scotland had he not been struck with an eye infection. If he replicates last year’s form he should make the plane. ON THE PLANE.
Frank Lampard- Bounces back every time he’s written off and will probably be the next player to reach the 100 cap mark. A strong season under a returning Jose Mourinho will probably see him make the squad although he may be vulnerable if Roy decides against taking a 5th central midfielder. ON THE PLANE (with maybe some work to do).
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain- Like Cleverley much depends on how he progresses next season but it’s obvious that he has the potential to be a top, top player. Carries a fearlessness of youth that cannot be underestimated and has also looked good whenever played in a central role so versatility could also come into play. Injury against Aston Villa could be serious though. ON THE PLANE. (depending on injury)
Wilfred Zaha- Something of an unknown quantity and much depends on how he adapts to Premier League football and the pressure of playing for Manchester United. Looked understandably nervous against Scotland but jury still very much out. WORK TO DO.
Raheem Stirling- More proven than Zaha but sadly off the field issues draw questions about whether he is fit to wear the England shirt. Seems unlikely that more than one, if either, of these young talents will make the squad so may come down to who has the better season if Raheem can stay out of trouble. WORK TO DO.
A whole host of outside bets really depend on how many midfielders Roy takes and how they are split between wingers and central players. Jack Rodwell and Leon Osman have featured in the centre of midfield on occasion while Aaron Lennon will hope to recreate his best form and get a spot on the wing.
For a real outside bet look no further than Tom Ince who has impressed for both the under 21s and Blackpool and a move to a big side could see him in with a shout.
Wayne Rooney- All sorts going on for him at club level at the moment but as an international still comfortably England’s best central striker. Links up play well and relationship with Danny Welbeck is key to England as an attacking unit. His main task will be to find form at a major tournament for the first time since bursting on to the scene at Euro 2004. ON THE PLANE.
Theo Walcott- Goal against Scotland was only his second since stunning hat trick in Zagreb but he is a completely different player to the one he was twelve months ago. Confident in his finishing and possessing as much raw pace as anyone in world football his threat is obvious and the goals should flow again this season at club level. ON THE PLANE.
Danny Welbeck- I’m a real fan of his, works hard, link up play is very good, and offers something of a physical presence without tempting England into long-ball mode. Needs to be a bit more selfish when in goal scoring areas although a lack of goals at club level hasn’t transpired to his international form; he has six from his six shots on target in an England shirt. ON THE PLANE.
Daniel Sturridge- Started to show some really encouraging form following his transfer to Liverpool and got goals regularly. Much probably depends on how many strikers Hodgson takes though. If it’s only four then Roy may opt for a real target man to provide a plan B. WORK TO DO.
Jermain Defoe- Has scored wherever he’s gone, including at the last World Cup. Like Sturridge though his inclusion will depend heavily on whether Hodgson opts for 4 or 5 attackers. I suspect it will be 5 given that Theo Walcott can double as a midfielder. WORK TO DO.
Andy Carroll- Offers England something different and was very effective when deployed as a proper target man against Sweden at Euro 2012. A strong season at West Ham could see him push not only for a squad place but a starting one too. WORK TO DO.
Rickie Lambert is the obvious bet for an outside place given his fairy tale goal against Scotland. Beyond him, Peter Crouch’s international record is impressive but I reckon that barring many injuries, the attackers will come from the 6 highlighted above.
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