Wayne Rooney will captain his country for the first time since being handed the armband on a permanent basis when he leads out a young England side against Norway at Wembley. It will be the first chance for England to start putting a disappointing World Cup behind them as they prepare to begin their attempts to qualify for the European Championships in 2016. Roy Hodgson failed to lead the country out of the group stages in Brazil, recording just one point rom three matches, and the crowd will reflect that on Wednesday, with under 40,000 and the lowest crowd for an international at the new Wembley expected.
“If you look around Europe, it’s still probably one of the highest attendances,” Rooney said. “But obviously a bit lower than normal, but we expect that. The World Cup didn’t go as planned for us and obviously it’s a backlash from that. We understand that. We as a team want to go and put an exciting performance on and win the game and we’ve got a really important game coming up on Monday after that and we want to make sure the fans know were giving everything we can to try and win the game tomorrow and then win the game on Monday. We’re grateful for the support and hopefully we can give them a good result.”
The upcoming game on Monday sees England begin its Euro 2016 qualifying campaign with an away trip to Switzerland. Also in Group E, England will face Slovenia, Estonia, Lithuania and San Marino. With the top two teams progressing to the expanded 24-teams finals in France and the third going into a playoff, it is a campaign that England will expect to negotiate without major drama.
But there is immediate pressure on Hodgson to show that brighter times lie ahead. Accordingly, his first lineup since the World Cup is an inexperienced one, featuring five players aged 22 or younger. In defense, Everton 20-year-old John Stones will make his first England start, while a midfield -- now absent the retired Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard -- will contain a quartet of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Jordan Henderson, Jack Wilshere and Raheem Sterling, with just 30 caps to their name.
“This is a team that contains interesting young talent with enormous potential,” Hodgson explained, reports BBC Sport. “There will be one or two that wouldn't have played many games. The young ones have to step up to the plate and make certain they don't let themselves down.”
In Norway, England will be facing a side that is also in a rebuilding phase. After finishing below Switzerland, Iceland and Slovenia in a failed attempt to qualify for the 2014 World Cup, Egil Olsen, the coach who led the country to its greatest successes in the 1990s, stepped down for a second time to be replaced by Per-Mathias Høgmo. Norway’s Euro 2016 qualifiers begin when hosting Italy next Tuesday.
Prediction: After showing flexibility in the lead up to the World Cup and in Brazil, Hodgson is set to revert to his favored 4-4-2 formation against Norway. Crucial to its success will be preventing the rigid straight lines in midfield and attack that made England so predictable in the past. A young defense may also be shaky, although it is doubtful that a limited Norway side has the tools to cause the hosts undue concern. It is unlikely to be a game to rouse the unsurprisingly small crowd at Wembley, but England should emerge with a win.
England 1-0 Norway
Kickoff time: 3 p.m. EDT
TV Channel: Fox Sports 2