Eriksson throws down World Cup challenge

For Peter Crouch, Andrew Johnson and Kieran Richardson the trail to follow at Soldier Field today is the one blazed by Mark Hateley, Gary Stevens, Peter Reid and Gary Neville. The one to avoid is the path to international obscurity followed by a host of others from Gary Charles and Brian Deane to David Unsworth and John Scales.

Crouch, Johnson and Richardson will all make their first starts for England today, giving a hitherto largely ignored friendly against an understrength United States sudden importance. Summer tours generate valuable cash for the Football Association, provoke resentment from club managers and, just occasionally, throw up a player.

In 1984, Hateley, of Second Division Portsmouth, scored on his first England start, against Brazil, and won himself a transfer to Milan. The following year, in Mexico, the Everton team-mates Stevens and Reid made their debuts, impressing enough to return 12 months later for the World Cup.

In 1995, England stayed at home but Terry Venables still suffered withdrawals ahead of the Umbro Cup. Into the team stepped Neville after barely a dozen club games. Ten years on he is still there, a veteran of two World Cups.

That is the target for Sven Goran Eriksson's novices here today. Whether newcomers like Crouch, fringe players such as Jermaine Jenas, or those returning from a long absence like Michael Carrick, they know a good performance could be the first step to a place in Germany for next summer's World Cup.

"It is a chance for players to show they are ready at this level," said Eriksson yesterday. "I know what [Jermain] Defoe and [Alan] Smith can do. This is a golden opportunity to give Crouch and Johnson the chance. They might be ready in a year's time. Richardson is young and inexperienced but he is a huge talent, why not give him a chance a match like this? The World Cup is in one year. At the moment I know my starting XI, and 18-19 of my squad. But anything can happen in a year. I will be happily surprised if there are no injuries when I pick the squad."

With the withdrawal of Stewart Downing bringing to 16 the number of unavailable players, Eriksson has had to cast his net wider than at any time since he arrived in England. Scott Carson's arrival from Istanbul brought to five the number of uncapped players. Of them, Crouch and Richardson have the best opportunities.

A note of caution, however. In 1995 Venables also capped Scales, Unsworth, Colin Cooper and Stan Collymore. The quartet managed one further appearance between them. The worst fall-out rate came in 1991 when Graham Taylor's side toured Australasia and Malaysia. Eight players were given debuts, including Charles, Deane, Earl Barrett and Mark Walters. Only Dennis Wise appeared in a major tournament, and that nine years later in Euro 2000.

Sol Campbell will lead England for the first time since the King Hassan II Cup in Morocco before France '98. He was then England's youngest captain since Bobby Moore. Seven years on he is, at 30, the oldest outfielder in the squad. Having been omitted from Arsenal's FA Cup team - a decision he yesterday indicated he was very unhappy about - it is as important a match for him as it is for the rookies.

"We had words," said Campbell of his response when Wenger told him.

The teams

United States

(probable, 4-4-2):

Keller (Borussia Mönchengladbach); Berhalter (Energie Cottbus); Pope (Real Salt Lake), Gibbs (Feyenoord), Bocanegra (Fulham); Zavagnin (Kansas City Wizards), (Donovan (LA Galaxy), Dempsey (New England Revolution), Convey (Reading); McBride (Fulham), Wolff (Kansas City Wizards).



James (Man City); G Johnson (Chelsea), Brown (Man Utd), Campbell (Arsenal), A Cole (Arsenal); J Cole (Chelsea), Jenas (Newcastle), Carrick (Tottenham), Richardson (Man Utd); Crouch (Southampton), A Johnson (Crystal Palace).

Referee: B Archundia (Mexico).

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