England begin their preparations for next year’s World Cup in Brazil when they welcome in-form Chile to London for a friendly at Wembley Stadium today.
England have not lost a game this year, but Chile are on a nine-match unbeaten run and they finished third in South American qualifying after a storming conclusion to their campaign.
Despite the strength of the opposition, England manager Roy Hodgson is expected to hand opportunities to several fringe players for the first match since his side booked their place in Brazil.
England will play only three friendly matches before Hodgson names his squad for the World Cup and it is thought he will save his strongest starting XI for Tuesday’s game against old foes Germany.
Celtic goalkeeper Fraser Forster may be handed his first cap in place of Joe Hart, while Hodgson could also give starts to uncapped Southampton pair Adam Lallana and Jay Rodriguez.
Another player hoping for a chance to shine is Manchester United defender Phil Jones, who is one of several players bidding to nail down a place in the squad.
“Every game is a massive game. You have got to perform and hopefully we can do that in the two games coming up,” Jones said. “Chile will be technically a good team, they will pass the ball well and present a good challenge for us. Germany have world-class players in their ranks, so we will have our work cut out against them, but I am sure we will put on a good performance.”
Steven Gerrard’s hip injury means that Frank Lampard will captain England and the Chelsea midfielder is also set to be presented with a commemorative golden cap for making 100 international appearances.
Tottenham Hotspur rightback Kyle Walker has also been ruled out of the game, while Manchester United pair Michael Carrick and Danny Welbeck both had to withdraw from the squad due to injury.
For the visitors, Juventus midfielder Arturo Vidal is a doubt with a thigh strain, but Barcelona star Alexis Sanchez is in line to spearhead the attack after scoring eight goals in his past eight games for club and country.
Coincidentally, England and Chile first played against each other at a World Cup in Brazil, with England winning 2-0 in a group-stage match in Rio de Janeiro at the 1950 tournament.
Their last encounter occurred at the old Wembley in 1998 and saw Chile prevail 2-0 thanks to a memorable brace from striker Marcelo Salas, who scored with a stunning volley and a self-won penalty.
“That game is historic for Chile. It was something amazing, what Marcelo did,” Sanchez told a press conference at Wembley on Wednesday. “We hope we are able to do that on Friday. It would be fantastic to score a goal and to help my team win. Any Chilean player would love to score at Wembley.”
Chile finished the qualifying tournament as the form team in South America, winning five of their final six matches and only dropping points in a 3-3 draw away to Colombia in which they squandered a three-goal lead.
Jorge Sampaoli’s side also came within a whisker of beating world and European champions Spain in a friendly in Switzerland in September, only for Jesus Navas to net a stoppage-time equalizer in a 2-2 draw.
SSC Napoli forward Eduardo Vargas, currently on loan at Gremio, scored both of Chile’s goals in Geneva and the 23-year-old was also his country’s leading scorer in qualifying with five goals.
With a friendly against Brazil to follow in Toronto on Tuesday, Basel midfielder Marcelo Diaz said he and his teammates were looking forward to testing themselves against two of the world’s top sides.
“England are a team that will allow us to know exactly where we are,” Diaz said. “Chile are playing very well and that creates interest from other teams. It’s because of our good level that they want to play us.”