After a nervous evening, during which half of his likely squad were engaged in competitive action at either Old Trafford or Anfield, Sven Goran Eriksson today expects to name his World Cup 23.
A core group of players, probably as large as 20, will have been scribbled down in around 15 minutes weeks ago. As ever when a squad is being selected it will have been the last few names, those of players who, if things go well, are unlikely to play, who will have most exercised the England manager.
Eriksson said: "It's easy to pick out 15, 16 or 17 players, but then it gets difficult. There will be many disappointed football players in this country."
Eriksson hinted that ability was not his sole criterion when he said recently: "Behaviour is always important, as you know that you might be away for seven weeks. It's not easy for someone to sit on the bench for all three group games, maybe not playing for one minute. You have to be sure those kind of players will not destroy the spirit of the squad. It's always very important to have good reserves – and good doesn't always mean they are the best players but that they can handle the situation."
Some of the younger players will at least have the consolation of being named today in David Platt's squad for the European Under-21 Championship in Switzerland. The opportunity to gain experience in that tournament means that, while there is merit in the idea of taking a young goalkeeper, such as Chris Kirkland or Paul Robinson, to Japan, Eriksson can justifiably select instead the 30-somethings David Seaman, Nigel Martyn and David James.
The attacking group, too, looks inked in, Michael Owen's fragile hamstrings ensuring Darius Vassell gets an Asian summer alongside Michael Owen, Emile Heskey, Robbie Fowler and, probably, Teddy Sheringham. The latter, however, has never started for Eriksson and his cerebal approach is at odds with the Swede's pace-and-power play. If he did miss out, Matt Jansen could become the only uncapped inclusion.
The remaining 15 places will be shared by defenders and midfielders. Ordinarily, a coach would like to take eight of the former but Eriksson may take advantage of the option provided by Owen Hargreaves' recent stint at right-back for Bayern Munich to add an extra midfielder. Eriksson's continued refusal to countenance Graeme Le Saux leaves Ashley Cole and Wayne Bridge to travel as competing left-backs while Rio Ferdinand, Sol Campbell and Gareth Southgate are automatic choices in the centre. There is no outstanding fourth central defender but with Danny Mills, Jamie Carragher and Wes Brown, each contenders for the right-back position in the absence of Gary Neville, all able to play in the centre there is no need. Who accompanies Mills, for whom Eriksson has expressed a bizarre preference, may come down to who performed best last night.
Having room for an extra midfielder enables Eriksson, if he wants, to include Joe Cole. Certain to go, alongside Hargreaves, are the recovering David Beckham, Steven Gerrard, Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt and Kieron Dyer. Which leaves two from Steve McManaman, Michael Carrick, Frank Lampard, Joe Cole, Danny Murphy, Trevor Sinclair and, staking a late claim, Ray Parlour. Despite recent high-profile goals for McManaman and Parlour, and Lampard's excellent FA Cup final, Murphy's versatility, dead-ball ability and own penchant for timely goals should see him secure one of the berths. The other is Cole's unless Eriksson decides Sinclair's ability in wide areas may prove more valuable, especially in the wake of Beckham's injury.
While Eriksson's selections show a greater adherence to logical thought than many of his predecessors, a surprise would not be so surprising. Few, not least the players involved, expected Terry Venables to drop Peter Beardsley, Rob Lee and Dennis Wise before Euro '96. Paul Gascoigne, and a nation, were stunned by his omission in 1998. Two years later Kevin Keegan ruled out Andy Cole, because of a previously unknown toe injury, while Kieron Dyer and Rio Ferdinand were also left to find alternative summer entertainment.
Barring further delay, while tweaked hamstrings or, God forbid, suspected cracked metatarsals are assessed, the party will be released on the FA's website [www.theFa.com] at 10am today.
PROBABLE ENGLAND SQUAD
*David Seaman (Arsenal)
*Nigel Martyn (Leeds Utd)
David James (West Ham Utd)
Danny Mills (Leeds Utd)
Ashley Cole (Arsenal)
Wayne Bridge (Southampton)
*Rio Ferdinand (Leeds Utd)
*Sol Campbell (Arsenal)
*Gareth Southgate (Middlesbrough)
Wes Brown (Manchester Utd)
*David Beckham (Manchester Utd)
Steven Gerrard (Liverpool)
*Paul Scholes (Manchester Utd)
Nicky Butt (Manchester Utd)
Owen Hargreaves (Bayern Munich)
Kieron Dyer (Newcastle Utd)
Danny Murphy (Liverpool)
Joe Cole (West Ham Utd)
*Michael Owen (Liverpool)
Emile Heskey (Liverpool)
*Teddy Sheringham (Tottenham)
Robbie Fowler (Leeds Utd)
Darius Vassell (Aston Villa)
* In 1998 World Cup squadReuse content