A raft of injury-enforced withdrawals means England coach Roy Hodgson has no choice but to experiment in his side’s final game of the year away to Sweden today.
Wayne Rooney, Theo Walcott, Kyle Walker, Aaron Lennon and Jonjo Shelvey all pulled out of the squad on Sunday, after Ashley Cole, Joleon Lescott, James Milner, Frank Lampard and Jack Rodwell had already been declared unavailable.
Hodgson was rebuffed in his attempts to select Tottenham Hotspur striker Jermain Defoe and Arsenal winger Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain due to fitness concerns and having elected to omit midfielders Gareth Barry and Michael Carrick, he finds himself left with an inexperienced squad for the friendly.
The chief beneficiaries are likely to be the newcomers and the players on the periphery of Hodgson’s plans for the 2014 World Cup.
Everton midfielder Leon Osman, Arsenal fullback Carl Jenkinson and 20-year-old Crystal Palace winger Wilfried Zaha have all been called up for the first time.
They join Tottenham defender Steven Caulker, Chelsea leftback Ryan Bertrand, Stoke City centerback Ryan Shawcross, Liverpool winger Raheem Sterling and Celtic goalkeeper Fraser Forster in hoping to be awarded a first cap.
Rooney’s withdrawal, after he injured his ankle in Manchester United’s 3-2 win at Aston Villa on Saturday, could open the door for Chelsea’s Daniel Sturridge to win his first international start.
The former Manchester City striker has started just once for Chelsea this season, with Fernando Torres consistently preferred in attack, and he says he is grateful that Hodgson continues to show faith in him.
“I am thankful for the manager choosing me and giving me the showcase to show what I am capable of,” said Sturridge, who has made three substitute appearances for England. “When he got the job he made it clear it was not always about players who are starting for the team and if he believes in you, he will choose you for his squad.”
At the other end of the experience spectrum, Steven Gerrard is set to win his 100th cap when he leads the team out as captain at Stockholm’s new Friends Arena.
The Liverpool man will become only the sixth man to reach the 100-cap threshold for England, after Peter Shilton, David Beckham, Bobby Moore, Bobby Charlton and Billy Wright.
He could be partnered in midfield by Jack Wilshere, who returns to the fold after a 17-month injury layoff, although Hodgson has promised Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger that he will use the 20-year-old sparingly.
Hodgson began his coaching career in Sweden, working at Halmstads BK, Orebro SK and Malmo FF, and he led England to a 3-2 win over today’s opponents when they met in the group phase at Euro 2012 in June.
Like England, Sweden have made an unbeaten start to their 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign and with coach Erik Hamren having selected a strong squad, Hodgson says he anticipates a keenly contested match.
“I think the rivalry between Sweden and England has been a fierce one and Sweden have made life very difficult for England over the years,” Hodgson told FATV. “Their record against us is very good and they’ll certainly be interested on this occasion to get some revenge for the defeat in the Euros.”
Sweden’s last outing saw them rally from four goals down to draw 4-4 with Germany in an unforgettable encounter in Berlin last month.
Paris Saint-Germain superstar Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the catalyst behind the comeback against Germany, is expected to start against England, but Hamren has hinted that he will also experiment.
“We have a team that is still inexperienced in a lot of positions,” Hamren said. “To get as much game-time as possible together is the ambition. Now we have a change of stadium and we obviously want to win here, too.”