England worry over Welbeck but Parker will start
Roy Hodgson last night admitted that taking Danny Welbeck to the European Championship as part of a depleted strike force could be a gamble but that he had to trust medical staff who say the Manchester United forward will be fit.
Welbeck is not able to play against Norway today because of an injury sustained at the end of the domestic season and he is unlikely to be 100 per cent by the time of Uefa's deadline for squads to be named at midday on Tuesday. The new England manager, coming to terms with the sort of problems all his 12 predecessors have faced – the Norwich goalkeeper John Ruddy withdrew yesterday with a broken finger – nevertheless wants to give Welbeck every chance to take part in the tournament; not least because Wayne Rooney will miss the first two group matches.
"I thought Danny would be fit to join in when he came," Hodgson said at the Ullevaal Stadium yesterday evening. "It now appears he might not be fit to train on Tuesday either. But the doctor's very confident he will be fit when we get on the plane for Poland. I'll make allowances for that and as long as he gives me guarantees he wants to play, I'll take him. You employ doctors, physios and experts and you value their opinions. When the opinion is 'don't worry, he'll be fit and OK', sometimes you have to accept that. There's an element of risk involved, but we don't have other alternatives of the Welbeck type up front."
By that he means that Welbeck is "a centre-forward type" and that the only similar player in the squad is Andy Carroll. "I want to have a striker capable of playing as a lone striker in the way Carroll can, and Welbeck fits that description," added Hodgson. Chelsea's Daniel Sturridge is the official standby striker and would come into the party if Welbeck's ankle does not improve.
He will be assessed again on Monday, as will Glen Johnson, the only regular right-back in the squad, whose toe injury came as a shock to Hodgson. "That took me by surprise," he said. "I thought he'd turn up fully fit and didn't know he'd been playing with an injection because of a toe infection. We hope he'll be fit when we go to London next week."
The better news was of Tottenham's Scott Parker, who starts alongside Steven Gerrard in central midfield tonight after making good progress. But the uncapped Ruddy will miss his first international tournament after breaking the finger on which his wedding ring is due to be placed next Saturday, when he had been excused from England's friendly against Belgium. He has travelled to Norway to watch today's friendly but it is the Birmingham City teenager Jack Butland who will be on parade as one of England's three goalkeepers with Robert Green and Joe Hart.
Ruddy had never before suffered a break of any sort, but he was injured early on in Thursday's training session when a ball struck the end of his finger. Even with his honeymoon extended – unlike Hodgson's perhaps – it is a setback for the Norwich keeper. Yesterday he tweeted: "Gutted but determined to come back better next season, can't wait for the wedding now!"
As ever, one man's injury is another's opportunity, so Butland steps into the breach, fresh from facing Barnet, Rotherham United and Accrington in his most recent matches for Cheltenham Town on loan from Birmingham, for whom he has not played a senior game. His promotion ahead of more experienced keepers like Scott Carson, David Stockdale and Frankie Fielding is in line with a policy of fast-tracking promising performers from England's development teams. He has also benefited from the appointment as an England goalkeeping coach of Birmingham's Dave Watson, who worked with Butland for several years and also Hart when he was on loan at St Andrew's.
Butland has represented England's Under-17s (winning the European Championship in 2010) and Under-19s, played at the Under-20 World Cup and made a debut at Under-21 level. Stuart Pearce is believed to have earmarked him for the Olympic squad but will now have to look elsewhere.
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