England’s Walcott eager to lead line


Wed, Feb 06, 2013 - Page 18

Theo Walcott hopes injuries to strikers Jermain Defoe and Daniel Sturridge will give him a chance to spearhead England’s attack in today’s prestige friendly with Brazil at Wembley Stadium in London.

Having been handed opportunities to play as a central forward by Arsenal this season, Walcott has responded with 18 goals to become the club’s leading scorer.

The 23-year-old has scored just four goals in 30 games for England, but he believes his club form could persuade national coach Roy Hodgson to hand him the central striking role he covets.

“Things are going quite well for Arsenal on the right, but Daniel and Jermain are both out so there is an opportunity [with England],” Walcott said. “That is the manager’s choice. I trained up front today [Monday] with Wayne [Rooney], so you never know. I will play anywhere for England and Arsenal, but I do believe I’m a striker and I’m sure in the next few years I’ll be playing [there] a bit more regularly.”

Manchester United midfielder Michael Carrick has also withdrawn from the England squad through injury, although he was not likely to start the game.

Ashley Cole is in line to become only the seventh England player to receive 100 caps, after Peter Shilton, David Beckham, Bobby Moore, Bobby Charlton, Billy Wright and Steven Gerrard.

The Chelsea leftback has not always been a popular figure with England fans, but Walcott said he remains a hugely influential member of the changing room.

“Ashley is massively important. He is so experienced and has won many things. A lot of players look up to him,” Walcott said. “He is a strong character. He can deal with anything. It is all about the game. Nothing fazes him. He is very concentrated.”

Today’s game forms part of the celebrations to mark the 150th anniversary of the Football Association and it will be England’s first outing since a 4-1 friendly loss to Sweden in November last year.

England centerback Phil Jagielka has called on his teammates to draw inspiration from the dogged display that saw them defeat world and European champions Spain 1-0 in a previous friendly in November 2011.

“This is a high-stakes game,” the Everton defender said. “That Spain game wasn’t make or break, but because we won and kept a clean sheet it turned into a massive positive. It is a similar situation now. Whether I get to play, or someone else, it is about gaining experience from a great test.”

The trip to Wembley will be Luiz Felipe Scolari’s first assignment in his second spell as Brazil coach, after he replaced the sacked Mano Menezes in November last year.

With Brazil already assured of a place at next year’s World Cup as hosts, Scolari’s task is to shape a team capable not just of winning the tournament, but of winning in the swashbuckling style with which Brazilian soccer is synonymous.

There is certainly plenty of creativity in the squad he has named for the game against England, with young talents Neymar, Oscar and Lucas Moura included alongside the recalled pair of Ronaldinho and Luis Fabiano.

Scolari, who led Brazil to their fifth World Cup title in Japan and South Korea in 2002, called up just one uncapped player in the form of 29-year-old Bayern Munich centerback Dante.

Bayern have conceded just seven goals in 20 league games this season — a German record — and having successfully marshaled some of the Bundesliga’s most dangerous forwards, Dante is keen to get to grips with Rooney.

“I’m really pleased to have got the call and I’m looking forward to the prospect,” Dante said. “He’s a world-class striker — a high quality player. His movement is fantastic. He’s got everything. You have to be right on your game against those sort of players, because they can turn a game in a flash.”

The last encounter between the teams saw Brazil snatch a 1-1 draw thanks to a stoppage-time equalizer by Diego in the first England international at the new Wembley Stadium in June 2007.