England v Switzerland: Capello can enjoy Swiss stroll over weak opposition

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The Independent Football

Emile Heskey was the first player to pull out of England's squad last night as Fabio Capello prepared to cull seven of the original list of 30 for his first match as manager against Switzerland at Wembley on Wednesday. The new manager could still face further disruption of the sort familiar to all his predecessors - especially for friendly matches - with several of the survivors involved in matches this afternoon.

Once the squad meet up at their Hertfordshire hotel this evening, he must decide on a captain and a starting XI. The Football Association say no decision has yet been made about who wears the armband, although in John Terry's absence, Liverpool's Steven Gerrard is the obvious choice, being more dynamic, vocal and reliable off the field than Rio Ferdinand. Both contenders, with 63 and 64 caps respectively, can at least be certain of a place in the first-choice team, which does not apply to Michael Owen, for all his 88 previous appearances. Capello and his right-hand man Franco Baldini, who is named in the official FA itinerary as general manager, have watched Newcastle only once between them, against Arsenal, and can hardly have been impressed with Owen. Unless he excels in a couple of training sessions tomorrow and on Tuesday, it would be curiosity as much as anything that prompted his selection, presumably alongside Rooney.

Gerrard was last night named as England Fans' Player of the Year for 2007 ahead of Micah Richards and David Beckham. The FA were therefore spared the embarrassment of having a winner who did not even make the original squad of 30 because of a lack of match-fitness. Beckham's 17 per cent of the vote, only five per cent behind Gerrard, indicated his continuing popularity among supporters, many of whom hoped to see him win a 100th cap on Wednesday.

Should England's performance be a poor one, it would hardly be a surprise to hear his name chanted by the capacity crowd, but Capello has every reason to be optimistic about the outcome. His opening night will feature opposition so short of players that they have been able to pick only two strikers, one of whom is an uncapped teenager normally used as a substitute by his club. Eren Derdiyok, 19, is second-choice at FC Basle to Marco Streller, but Streller is one of the key players unavailable to veteran coach Kobi Kuhn. Another is Alex Frei of Borussia Dortmund, also a striker, and the new Swiss captain, who has been injured almost all season. Kuhn caused controversy by dropping the previous captain Johann Vogel last summer, citing a poor attitude, which some believe stemmed from the traditional tensions between the French and German speakers.

Arsenal's Philippe Senderos and the Manchester City midfielder Gelson Fernandes are included, but Senderos's team-mate Johann Djourou is out with a hip injury sustained in the Carling Cup semi-final against Tottenham. Midfielder Reto Ziegler, who was at White Hart Lane for three years and also played for Wigan, is also named. There are five Swiss survivors from the countries' last meeting, at Euro 2004, when Rooney set an already scorching Coimbra alight with two goals in a 3-0 victory. The Swiss have won three out of 19 encounters against England, two of them on either side of the second world war. Their only success in the 16 meetings since 1947 came 33 years ago, a 2-1 victory against Ron Greenwood's side in a World Cup qualification match.

The excitement felt in Switzerland about co-hosting Euro 2008 this summer is tinged with a certain apprehension about how they will fare in a group containing the Czech Republic, Portugal and Turkey. The only reason the Swiss are not regarded as the worst team ever to stage a major tournament is because their co-hosts Austria are weaker, ranked 90th in the world to Switzerland's 44th. After starting the season promisingly by beating Holland and Chile, Kuhn's squad have been beaten by Japan, the United States and Nigeria. The 63 year-old coach will step down after this summer's competition and may be replaced by Ottmar Hitzfeld, who is leaving Bayern Munich.

England squad: Carson (Aston Villa), James (Portsmouth), Kirkland (Wigan); Bridge (Chelsea), Brown (Manchester United), A Cole (Chelsea), Davies (Aston Villa), Ferdinand (Manchester United), Johnson (Portsmouth), King (Tottenham), Lescott (Everton), Richards (Manchester City), Shorey (Reading), Upson (West Ham), Woodgate (Tottenham); Barry (Aston Villa), Bentley (Blackburn), Carrick (Manchester United), J Cole (Chelsea), Downing (Middlesbrough), Gerrard (Liverpool), Hargreaves (Manchester United), Jenas (Tottenham), Wright-Phillips (Chelsea), Young (Aston Villa); Agbonlahor (Aston Villa), Crouch (Liverpool), Owen (Newcastle), Rooney (Manchester United).

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