England manager Roy Hodgson will run the rule over his players for the last time before naming his World Cup squad when they tackle Denmark in a friendly today.
Hodgson will not announce his 23-man selection and seven standby players for the World Cup until May 13, but the match at Wembley Stadium in London represents his final opportunity for experimentation before he does so.
Having seen his side lose at home to Chile and Germany in friendly games in November last year, Hodgson is seeking to avoid becoming the first England manager ever to lose three consecutive fixtures on home soil.
However, with the World Cup in Brazil looming on the horizon, he has hinted that he may use Denmark’s visit to examine some of the players on the fringes of his first XI.
“The Denmark game is very much a game where I’ve got to think about what experimentations I need,” Hodgson said. “If we take Steven Gerrard, does he need to play against Denmark to prove to me that he needs to play against Italy [in England’s first match at the World Cup]? Would I be better off playing somebody else because I know what Steven Gerrard can do? He’s got 103 caps. Could [Wayne] Rooney be in the same category as Gerrard and Joe Hart too?”
The 30-man squad that Hodgson announced for the game did not contain any major surprises, but Southampton leftback Luke Shaw was awarded a first senior call-up.
The 18-year-old has both Leighton Baines and Ashley Cole ahead of him in the pecking order, but Cole’s lack of playing time at Chelsea may hand Shaw an opportunity to gazump him.
On the opposite side of the defense, a hip injury to Tottenham Hotspur’s Kyle Walker means that Liverpool’s Glen Johnson is likely to win his 50th cap at rightback, while Everton centerback Phil Jagielka is also absent.
Another player hoping to catch Hodgson’s eye is Arsenal midfielder Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who has impressed in recent weeks after missing the first half of the season with a knee problem.
“I think you always have to be on your toes and make sure that when you have opportunities to play for your club or country, you take it and show what you have to offer,” the 20-year-old said. “I don’t think I’m playing catchup [in terms of fitness]. I’m a young player and I’m still learning. When I get the opportunity, I always try to do my best.”
Having missed out on a place at the World Cup, Denmark will use the game to begin preparations for their Euro 2016 qualifying campaign.
Morten Olsen’s side finished six points adrift of Italy in World Cup qualifying and face a difficult task to reach Euro 2016, having been drawn alongside Portugal and Serbia in Group I.
Denmark must do without Spurs playmaker Christian Eriksen and Toulouse forward Martin Braithwaite due to injury, which prompted Olsen to draft Jakob Ankersen, Jakob Poulsen and Simon Makienok into his squad.
With the Danish Superliga season having only just resumed after its winter break and most of Denmark’s players plying their trade in their homeland, Olsen concedes that England will have a physical advantage.
“The English players are in fantastic match condition, while some of our players can’t have the same level of match fitness as we have only recently resumed our domestic league,” Olsen said. “So this will be quite a match for them. We will need to perform as a team if we are to stand a chance against them at Wembley.”
Denmark’s players will wear black armbands in tribute to Richard Moller Nielsen, coach of the team that pulled off a shock triumph at Euro 92, following his death last month at the age of 76.