England facing friendlies reduction

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The Independent Football

England could end up playing fewer friendlies during the next four-year TV deal, even though the Football Association remain committed to exposing the national team at the highest possible level.

Following last week's defeat to Spain at Old Trafford, Steve McClaren's assistant Terry Venables claimed it was time to scrap friendlies in favour of short "get-togethers" which would allow more time for training. The chances of such a move are remote, given that all England's major rivals play on the Fifa-recognised dates and the FA needs to maximise revenues in order to make the payments on the new Wembley Stadium.

In fact, it had been suggested that the number of friendlies could actually increase because the tender document issued for the TV contract due to run from 2008-2012 includes provision for 18 such matches.

However, the reason for the high figure is that the FA is now including away games as part of the packages on offer, something they have previously never done.

So, with England in line to play 20 friendly games from 2004 to the 2008 World Cup, there is scope for a minor reduction in the number of games the national side play.

Although the FA has opted not to state the obvious in terms of the Wembley repayments, it also suggests it is in the middle of a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't argument. For if England had not played last week and lost the Euro 2008 qualifier in Israel on 24 March, Soho Square officials feel certain that McClaren would have been castigated for not getting his team some much-needed match practice.

In addition, TV viewing figures for the national side remain strong, with audiences peaking at over eight million last Wednesday.

And, fans can hardly complain about the opposition England are facing either.

After tackling the European Champions Greece, then Holland and Spain this season, a clash with Brazil or Argentina is planned for the end of May, while Germany are the likely opponents on 22 August.

The Under-21s will face their Republic of Ireland counterparts in their qualifying campaign for the 2009 European Championships. Both were drawn in Group Three, along with Portugal, Bulgaria and Montenegro, following the draw in Stockholm yesterday.

It was the first time Montenegro featured in a draw, after the country was accepted as a member association at the Uefa congress in Germany last month. The 10 group winners and four best second-placed countries will reach the play-offs to join hosts Sweden in the finals tournament.

Stuart Pearce will take charge for the tournament in the Netherlands in June, but there is hope of a full-time appointment for the new qualifying campaign.