Chamberlain and Welbeck lead England’s young guns

Hodgson takes bold decision to start both against Belgium in front of Wembley full house

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The Independent Football

Roy Hodgson will give the 18-year-old Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain his first start for England today against Belgium in the team's last game before Euro 2012, the latest evidence that the teenager could play a significant role at the tournament this month.

Danny Welbeck, 21, the Manchester United striker who has not played for club or country since 30 April, is also starting the game in attack alongside his club-mate Ashley Young. Welbeck has started just once before for England, against the Netherlands in February, and takes the place of Andy Carroll, who played against Norway last Saturday.

Oxlade-Chamberlain will start on the left side of midfield, on the opposite side to James Milner at Wembley this evening after making a big impression on Hodgson and the rest of his staff in training this week. The Arsenal winger was given his first cap in the friendly against Norway on Saturday and has demonstrated he can also play through the middle.

Earlier in the day, the England manager said he would start with his first choice goalkeeper Joe Hart and a back four of Glen Johnson, Gary Cahill, John Terry and Ashley Cole. Alongside the captain Steven Gerrard, Scott Parker will get another opportunity to prove his fitness in midfield, having trained this week despite his Achilles problem.

With all 90,000 tickets sold at Wembley for today's game against one of the brightest young teams in Europe, Hodgson challenged his players to prove that this group could mount a credible challenge in Poland and Ukraine.

He said: "I want the players to go and show how enthusiastic they are about this tournament, how determined they are to work their socks off to get the best results possible. That their attitude towards this tournament is going to be: 'No fair minded person will be able to say we didn't give our best, we didn't work hard enough or want it badly enough'.

"If they can give a performance that, in some way shows that, that'll make me happy.

"Managing at Wembley is fantastic. Last week [against Norway in Oslo] was a good first game in charge, but it won't compare to tomorrow - 90,000 people at Wembley, Queen's Diamond Jubilee. It'll be a very big occasion for me."

With Lampard now out the squad, Uefa gave permission yesterday for Jordan Henderson to replace him, Hodgson conceded that the scope of the changes enforced upon him meant that he has still not even decided who his vice-captain will be. He said Wayne Rooney is a contender for the role, although he is suspended for the first two games of Euro 2012 and will not start today.

On the injuries that have claimed Barry, Lampard and reserve goalkeeper John Ruddy since the squad met up, Hodgson said England were "very unfortunate" but "not alone". "The French are a classic example: they lost Bacary Sagna just before the tournament, and might have lost Yann M'Vila. It's going to happen, quite frankly. We are at the end of a long season, particularly in England where we don't have the winter break."

There are fears that Parker does not have the mobility he enjoyed at the start of the season and may be restricted to be playing no more than an hour in games. Hodgson said: "He [Parker] will start [today] and that'll be an important part of him getting more match fitness. I ask him every day how he is. He says he's fine, perfectly OK. He's going to get fed up with me asking him."

The England players met with former referee David Elleray on Thursday night who, on behalf of Uefa, spoke to them about the kind of challenges and behaviour that could land them in trouble. Steven Gerrard acknowledged that a challenge similar to his tackle on Norway's Tom Hogli last Saturday could have earned him at least a booking at the tournament.

Gerrard said: "We have to be slightly more careful at international level compared to what we're used to in our league. The tackle last week might have been a caution or worse, but to me it's fair. It was clean, the side of my foot, no studs. It has changed, though. It's something you have to adapt to as a player, especially myself who is a tackler. You can't get away with it at international level. You can connect with the ball cleanly but if you take the man, you get cautioned."

Belgium have their own selection issues, with captain Vincent Kompany, of Manchester City, a doubt for the game. A decision will be made on his calf injury today.

Stats magic

45 Minutes played as a partnership by Scott Parker and Steven Gerrard

1936 Year in which Belgium recorded their only win over England in 20 meetings – a 3-2 victory in Brussels

185 Minutes per assist for Stewart Downing with England – the best in the current squad

3 England squad members who played Belgium’s U21s in February – Butland, Oxlade- Chamberlain and Henderson