England have been hit by a string of injuries ahead of their friendly with the Republic of Ireland at Wembley on Wednesday. The match, part of the celebration of the English Football Association’s 150th anniversary, is the first time the two countries have met since a friendly at Landsdowne Road, Dublin, had to be abandoned in 1995 due to crowd violence. It is hoped that there will be no repeat of those ugly events this time around.
The match will undoubtedly have something of a local-derby feel, not only because of the close proximity of the two nations but because LA Galaxy’s Robbie Keane will be the only starter who doesn’t ply his trade in the English leagues. Keane has been granted special permission by his Major League Soccer Club to play, despite the match not taking place on an official FIFA date.
England manager Roy Hodgson has had less success with the availability of his players. Captain Steven Gerrard, Jack Wilshere, Tom Cleverley, Andy Carroll and Kyle Walker have all been ruled out of the match. Forward Danny Welbeck is also likely to miss out, though could feature in Saturday’s match against Brazil in Rio de Janeiro. Hodgson, though, has said that he is eager to get a good look at the remaining players.
"This is a group of players I am really looking forward to see in matches, having had a chance to work with them in training,” he said, according to the FA’s website. "With it being a small group they will all get a reasonable amount of time. If you are splitting the playing time people get less time on the field."
Yet, not for the first time, the buildup to an England match has been dominated by talk over the captaincy. After some confusion it has been announced that Ashley Cole will captain his country to celebrate his 100th cap -- regardless of the fact that the match against Ireland will be his 102nd appearance. The decision has caused much scrutiny -- a result of Cole, no stranger to controversy through much of his career, last year composing an expletive-laden Tweet directed at the FA. While he will lead the team out, the media duties will be left to Frank Lampard.
On the pitch, England have plenty of work to do to ensure qualification for next year’s World Cup. A 1-1 draw in Montenegro in March has left them in second place in their group. The Republic, meanwhile, are in fourth spot in their section, level on points with the countries against which they drew their past two matches -- Sweden and Austria.
D: Johnson, Cahill, Jagielka, Cole
M: Carrick, Lampard
Walcott, Rooney, Milner
Republic of Ireland (confirmed)
D: Coleman, O’Shea, St Ledger, Kelly
M: Walters, McCarthy, Whelan, McGeady
F: Keane, Long
Prediction: Both countries are not exactly flourishing at the moment in the terms of the quality at their disposal. In England’s case, there is an argument to be made that Hodgson is presiding over the weakest pool of players since the dark days under Graham Taylor 20 years ago. And that’s without the significant withdrawals that have hit this squad. The match should, though, present a good opportunity for Daniel Sturridge to make a mark on the international stage following his excellent impact since joining Liverpool in January.
For the Republic, Giovanni Trapattoni’s recent decision to add Wigan’s James McCarthy to a previously workman like midfield is a positive one. However, Wednesday’s match is sure to resemble the hustle and bustle of a Premier League matchup. While England have greater quality, there could well be more motivation on the Republic’s part and that could mean a tightly fought draw.
England 1-1 Republic of Ireland
Where to watch: The international friendly will kick-off at Wembley at 3 p.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by the Fox Soccer Channel, with an online stream available following the match on Fox Soccer 2Go.