Upmarket travel agents can look forward to some downbeat telephone calls on Tuesday as footballers who find themselves missing from Fabio Capello's list of 30 contenders for a World Cup place sort out a holiday in the sun instead. The fortunate 30 know they will be involved in a fortnight's training at altitude in Austria starting a week tomorrow plus friendlies against Mexico (Wembley, 24 May) and Japan (Graz, 30 May) before seven of them are told that they too can go on holiday next month.
It is a tricky period, above all, for those who have been injured and know they are suddenly running out of time. Consider, for instance, Manchester City's Gareth Barry and Joleon Lescott, regulars in the squad who have suffered an injury at just the wrong time. Lescott has not played for two months, though he insists there is still hope of making the squad. "I am back training with the team, so I am pleased with that," he said. "I have only trained three or four days, but I don't see any problems fitness-wise. It will be down to Fabio if I've done enough already. Obviously he hasn't seen me for six or seven weeks so it will be down to whether I have done enough previously."
Capello's ruling on injured players that "if it's two weeks, then no" does not bode well for those like Lescott or Barry, who would need at least that length of time to become fully fit. The same applies to the Manchester United pair Wes Brown and Owen Hargreaves, even though the head coach has ruled neither out yet ahead of the final selection meeting with his coaches tomorrow morning. Both are valued for their versatility, but short of being picked against Stoke today and having a blinder, it is difficult to see either making it. Hence the England camp's delight that Jamie Carragher, who prefers to play in central defence but could fill in at full-back or as a defensive midfielder, is prepared to return to international football after three years' absence.
That is one bonus. The other is Fifa's clarification that any player not on the original list of 30 could still be brought in up until 24 hours before the first game if anyone else suffers "serious injury". The ruling would apply to goalkeepers, which means it should only be necessary to name three, not four, on Tuesday, freeing up an extra space for an outfield player. As England will want to give Barry as long as possible to recover, despite their own doctor's pessimistic diagnosis, he could be named with Tottenham's Tom Huddlestone coming in as the latest graduate from Stuart Pearce's Under-21s.
If Capello has had things relatively easy for the past 18 months, ever since England set up their qualification for the finals by winning in Croatia, it is now time to earn his money. There are hard decisions to be made, complicated by the fact that, as usual at the end of an English season, players are weary and injuries are niggling. The Italian has already become the latest England manager to point out the benefits of a midwinter break, doubtless as vainly as all of his predecessors.
While a lucky few have run into form, far more are out of sorts or out of their respective teams. It is just as well that for the vast majority of candidates, today marks the last competitive game. Five will still be involved in the FA Cup final on the pitch that ended Michael Owen's season, and Bobby Zamora may not even make Fulham's Europa League final on Wednesday, but it suits Capello well enough, though he may not admit it, to have no English club in the Champions' League final.
Zamora will be a gamble and along with Carlton Cole can consider himself fortunate if he makes the 30 ahead of Darren Bent, who, like West Ham's Scott Parker, needed to make more of earlier, brief international opportunities. The other interesting position, which will remain so for a while yet, is the right side of midfield where Manchester City's Adam Johnson has to hope Capello shares Roberto Mancini's faith in playing him ahead of Shaun Wright-Phillips.
Possible squad of 30 James (Portsmouth), Green (West Ham), Hart (Birmingham); Johnson (Liverpool), Carragher (Liverpool), Ferdinand (Manchester Utd), Terry (Chelsea), Upson (West Ham), King (Tottenham), Dawson (Tottenham), A Cole (Chelsea), Baines (Everton); Lennon (Tottenham), Walcott (Arsenal), Wright-Phillips (Manchester City), Milner (Aston Villa), J Cole (Chelsea), Johnson (Manchester City), Young (Aston Villa); Lampard (Chelsea), Gerrard (Liverpool), Barry (Manchester City), Carrick (Manchester Utd), Huddlestone (Tottenham); Rooney (Manchester Utd), Crouch (Tottenham), Heskey (Aston Villa), Defoe (Tottenham), Cole (West Ham), Zamora (Fulham).
Key dates Friendlies: England v Mexico, Mon 24 May, 8pm kick-off (Wembley). England v Japan, Sun 30 May, 1.15pm (Graz, Austria). World Cup group stages: England v USA, Sat 12 June, 7.30pm (Rustenburg). England v Algeria, Fri 18 June, 7.30pm (Cape Town). England v Slovenia, Wed 23 June, 3pm (Port Elizabeth).Reuse content