It may be just a friendly but for many of the England players taking on Denmark on Wednesday there will be a massive amount at stake. With now just 100 days to go until the World Cup, Roy Hodgson will get his final look at players in an England shirt before he is required to select his provisional squad on May 13.
Attempting to make the most of the opportunity, Hodgson has selected an enlarged 30-man squad for the international at Wembley. While Hodgson has been eager to insist that those snubbed for this party are not out of the reckoning for the plane to Brazil, they are very much now on the outside looking in. Those included have a precious chance to grab a golden ticket to the sport’s biggest event in the home of O Jogo Bonito.
That is particularly true of a quartet of hopefuls from Southampton, who have soared to prominence this season. Adam Lallana, Jay Rodriguez and Rickie Lambert have now been joined on the international scene by 18-year-old teammate Luke Shaw. With Ashley Cole and Leighton Baines ahead of him, it is Shaw who faces the toughest task to force his way into the final squad. However, with the man, who is earning desiring glances from the likes of Chelsea and Manchester United, showing ability and poise beyond his years to suggest he could be a fixture in England’s defense for a decade or more, taking him as the back-up to either Cole or Baines might make sense.
Cole, who finds himself out of the Chelsea side, might have some doubts over his place for the first time since he broke onto the international scene in 2001. Shaw looks set to get on the pitch at some point against Denmark, so it might reveal much about the current pecking order who Hodgson opts to start with at left-back
It is arguably out wide where the greatest competition currently lies in the current England setup. The in-form Adam Johnson, for example, has not even made the cut this time. Rodriguez and Lallana are two of those vying for the likely four positions on Hodgson’s roster, with the latter currently looking a much stronger bet. Lallana impressed more than his teammate when given a chance in last November’s friendlies and holds the trump card of versatility. The 25-year-old can play anywhere across a line of three behind a striker and has the intelligence that could see him thrive at international level. He could well start on the left against Denmark.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Raheem Sterling, James Milner and Andros Townsend are also vying for positions. Oxlade-Chamberlain, who has been a favorite of Hodgson’s looks a shoe-in to make the cut, having returned strongly from injury with Arsenal. Milner, too, looks a good bet with his defensive acumen and willingness having always appealed to the England boss.
Just five months ago Townsend was a strong contender not only to make the squad, but England’s first starting lineup in Brazil, as well. The Tottenham 22-year-old rewarded Hodgson’s uncharacteristic boldness by scoring in the vital win against Montenegro before also impressing in the victory over Poland that sealed England’s berth in Brazil. But through injury and a dip in form, his place is now far less secure.
In contrast, Sterling, who was not even close to the Liverpool team at the start of the season, has become a prominent part of his club’s recent flood of goals. With both offering similar pace and unpredictability, it is likely only one will be heading to the World Cup and their performances against Denmark, should they get on the pitch, could go a long way to deciding which one makes the cut.
Up front, things are more settled. Sterling’s club-mate, Daniel Sturridge, with 18 Premier League goals to his name despite missing more than a month of the season, now looks a lock to start ahead of Wayne Rooney. Hodgson is likely to use the Denmark match as an opportunity for the two to continue to build a partnership that has thus far appeared very much in its formative stages. Daniel Welbeck, despite his lack of minutes and form for Manchester United, has been a reliable and versatile performer for England, while Jermain Defoe doesn’t appear to have suffered for his move to Toronto FC. Meanwhile, Lambert has the nod in the battle to get the target-man place over Andy Carroll.
Defense is also fairly set. Phil Jagielka’s injury means that Chris Smalling is set to partner Gary Cahill at center-back. All three are likely to go to Brazil. Still, Steven Caulker has a chance to stake a claim should he come off the bench. At right-back Glen Johnson will get a chance to cement his standing as first choice, with Kyle Walker out injured.
Central midfield spots remain very much up for grabs. Captain Steven Gerrard is sure to start on Wednesday, likely alongside either Michael Carrick of Jack Wilshere. While that trio should be able to relax about their World Cup prospects, Frank Lampard, Tom Cleverley, Jordan Henderson and Ross Barkley are all vying for likely just two slots. Cleverley was an almost ever-presence in qualifying but has looked void of all confidence at Manchester United, while Lampard is no longer a regular at Chelsea. The in-form Henderson and the exceptionally promising Barkley would certainly be more exciting, forward-thinking selections.
In Denmark, the second-highest-ranked team not to make it to the World Cup, England will encounter proper competition against which to build cohesion in their first 11 and test out the squad hopefuls. While key man Christian Eriksen is a doubt with a back problem, there will still likely be two starters very familiar to the England players in Liverpool’s Daniel Agger and Arsenal’s Nicklas Bendtner.
England G: Hart
D: Johnson, Smalling, Cahill, Baines
M: Gerrard, Wilshere
Oxlade-Chamberlain, Rooney, Lallana
Denmark G: Andersen
D: Jacobsen, Bjelland, Agger, Juelsgaard
M: Kvist, Zimling
Braithwaite, Eriksen, Krohn-Dehli