After a dismal FIFA World Cup, England is set to enter an uncertain new era today, when they tackle Norway in a low-key friendly game at Wembley Stadium.
England manager Roy Hodgson has called up four uncapped players in Calum Chambers, Danny Rose, Fabian Delph and Jack Colback, but following England’s group-stage elimination in Brazil, supporter interest is at a low ebb.
With several players missing due to injury and with former stalwarts such as Frank Lampard and captain Steven Gerrard having retired, the FA expects a record low crowd of about 35,000 for the game.
The match nonetheless serves an important purpose, with Hodgson’s side due to open their 2016 European Championship qualifying campaign away to Switzerland, their main Group E rivals, in Basel on Monday next week.
The match is also to see Wayne Rooney lead the team out for the first time since being appointed captain.
Amid all the novelty, midfielder Jordan Henderson has urged his teammates to seize the chance of a fresh start.
“This is the first time the group has been together since the World Cup, so I think we’ve got to deal with it and put it to bed now and move on and look toward the future,” the Liverpool player said.
“Obviously, overall it was very disappointing, because we came home far too early, but we’ve got to look at some of the positives as well and hopefully use them to move forward and start a new chapter,” he said.
Versatile defender Chambers, 19, was rewarded with a call-up after impressing in his first few appearances for new club Arsenal following a close-season move from Southampton.
He was joined in the squad by Tottenham Hotspur leftback Rose, a seasoned Under-21 international, Aston Villa midfielder Delph and midfielder Colback, who left formative club Sunderland for Newcastle United in June.
Hodgson has jokingly referred to Colback as “The Ginger Pirlo,” in reference to elegant Italy playmaker Andrea Pirlo, but the health of England’s midfield is no laughing matter.
With Michael Carrick, Ross Barkley, Theo Walcott and Adam Lallana sidelined and Gerrard and Lampard no longer available for selection, Hodgson’s options in the middle of the pitch are seriously diminished.
Fullbacks Kyle Walker, Glen Johnson, Luke Shaw and Kieran Gibbs and forward Jay Rodriguez are also currently out of action, but Hodgson says he has no qualms about blooding new players.
“I think they’re good enough to play for England, as the manager and the coaches think they’re good enough to play for England,” said Hodgson, who began his tenure with a 1-0 win over Norway in a friendly in May 2012. “Now they need to put on the shirt and the boots and go out and show they’re good enough.”
Like England, Norway are rebuilding after missing out on a place at the World Cup.
Manager Per-Mathias Hogmo named a youthful squad for the friendly against England and Norway’s opening Euro 2016 qualifier against Group H rivals Italy in Oslo on Tuesday next week.
However, there was no place for 15-year-old Stromsgodset sensation Martin Odegaard, who became Norway’s youngest-ever player when he started against the United Arab Emirates in a goalless friendly last week.
Norway have won only one of their 10 games under Hogmo, who was appointed a year ago, but he feels that they are moving in the right direction.