A new year of international football brought a transfusion of new blood into the England squad last night, when Middlesbrough's winger Stewart Downing and the Crystal Palace striker Andy Johnson were named for the friendly match against Holland at Villa Park on Wednesday.
Steven Gerrard, Ledley King and the Norwich goalkeeper Robert Green return after injury, and there are recalls for the Chelsea full-back Glen Johnson and Newcastle's Kieron Dyer. Bizarrely, Johnson is suspended from the Under-21 team but can play for the senior side. Birmingham's Matthew Upson wins a reprieve because the first-choice central defensive pairing of Sol Campbell and Rio Ferdinand are both missing.
In midfield, where Phil Neville misses out, Downing should make his debut as a second-half substitute at least. Wayne Bridge, the Chelsea full-back, has played wide on the left for England twice recently, but a better option would be to start Shaun Wright-Phillips there and see which of the two young natural wingers makes the better impression.
David Beckham fell heavily on his shoulder during Real Madrid's 4-0 win over Espanyol last night. He came off midway through the second half but the England captain will not want to miss this outing against the Dutch. Michael Owen came on for the last 15 minutes but did not score (much to his chagrin, though, the former Evertonian Thomas Gravesen did).
The return of Gerrard, who has not played since the critical World Cup qualifying win in Poland last September, will be welcome as Eriksson seeks a more coherent performance than the one in a 1-0 defeat in Spain three months ago, which he described as the worst under his management. The uproar over racist abuse from the Madrid crowd deflected much attention from the poverty of England's play in a match Eriksson did not really want. He is keen on playing a friendly this time, however, before World Cup qualifying resumes with home games over Easter at home to Northern Ireland (26 March at Old Trafford) and Azerbaijan (30 March at St James' Park).
Andy Johnson, like Downing, will hope to press his claims for a place in those squads by proving that he can step up to international level. Already this season he has taken to Premiership football like an Eagle to flight, with 15 Premiership goals in a struggling side. Now he has a chance to jump the queue because Darius Vassell is suffering a long-term injury and Alan Smith a short-term one.
England Squad (v Holland, friendly match, Villa Park, Wednesday): Paul Robinson (Tottenham), David James (Manchester City), Robert Green (Norwich); Gary Neville (Man Utd), Ashley Cole (Arsenal), Glen Johnson (Chelsea), Jamie Carragher (Liverpool), Wayne Bridge (Chelsea), Ledley King (Tottenham), John Terry (Chelsea), Matthew Upson (Birmingham); David Beckham (Real Madrid), Frank Lampard (Chelsea), Owen Hargreaves (Bayern Munich), Jermaine Jenas (Newcastle), Joe Cole (Chelsea), Shaun Wright-Phillips (Man City), Steven Gerrard (Liverpool), Stewart Downing (Middlesbrough), Kieron Dyer (Newcastle); Michael Owen (Real Madrid), Wayne Rooney (Man Utd), Jermain Defoe (Tottenham), Andy Johnson (Crystal Palace).
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