Everton defender Phil Jagielka says England’s players will all have points to prove when they tackle old rivals the Republic of Ireland in an end-of-season friendly at Wembley Stadium in London today.
England travel to Rio de Janeiro after the game for a glamor fixture with Brazil and the two matches represent opportunities for players to convince manager Roy Hodgson that they can play key roles in the weightier games to come.
Following another friendly with neighbors Scotland in August, England will resume their 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign with a double-header against Moldova and Ukraine in early September.
With only three games scheduled before Moldova travel to Wembley on Sept. 6, Jagielka is hoping to prove he deserves a chance to become one of England’s first-choice centerbacks.
“We don’t really know what the starting 11 will be, so it’s all about putting down a marker this week,” said the 30-year-old, who has not played for his country since October last year because of injury. “There are no points available, but I’m sure everyone will be trying to cement their place ahead of the games in August and September. Previous players nailed down that position for three or four years, so it will be interesting.”
Andy Carroll, Tom Cleverley and Kyle Walker have all pulled out of the squad due to injury, with injuries to captain Steven Gerrard and Jack Wilshere leaving England particularly light in central midfield.
Although Hodgson drafted Jack Rodwell into his squad to provide cover last week, it is more likely to open the door to a starting place for Cleverley’s Manchester United colleague Michael Carrick.
Carrick was one of the outstanding performers in United’s Premier League title triumph, earning a place in the Professional Footballers’ Association Team of the Year, but he says he is bemused by suggestions that he has enjoyed a breakthrough season.
“It slightly amuses me when I see or hear people saying different things, as if I have suddenly appeared from nowhere,” Carrick said. “I have maybe played a little bit better than I have done in the past, but I have been happy with my form for a long time really.”
Today’s game marks the start of a run of four matches in two weeks for the Republic of Ireland, who host Georgia in a friendly on Sunday, before meeting the Faroe Islands in a World Cup qualifier on June 7.
They finish the season with a prestige friendly in New York against world and European champions Spain, who beat them 4-0 at Euro 2012.
Manager Giovanni Trapattoni has challenged his players to prove they are capable of competing with England.
“The [Republic of Ireland] players play in England for Stoke [City] and many teams; the England players play for Manchester United, they play for Arsenal, but we can show them we are the same — that’s a stimulation for me. It’s very important that they show they are every bit as good,” the 74-year-old Italian said.
The Republic of Ireland’s all-time leading scorer Robbie Keane has been granted dispensation to play by the Los Angeles Galaxy, but Leeds United midfielder Paul Green has withdrawn from the squad due to a hamstring problem, with Hull City’s Stephen Quinn brought in as cover.
The game represents the first encounter between the two teams since a 1995 fixture at Dublin’s Lansdowne Road had to be abandoned when English hooligans went on the rampage.
Hodgson has called for England’s fans to behave, writing in the match program: “I strongly urge everyone in the ground to show each other respect and not to chant songs that could be regarded as insulting to others — particularly from a religious or political perspective.”
The Football Association has also e-mailed supporters attending the game to ask them not to sing offensive songs.