Jamie Carragher will be the surprise face in England's new-look midfield against Hungary tonight as Sven Goran Eriksson prepares for a World Cup without the genius of Wayne Rooney.
As the prospect of the Manchester United striker playing in Germany diminished with yesterday's announcement that Eriksson has brought forward a defining CT scan on his broken metatarsal by a week - thus enabling a replacement striker to be included in the final 23-man squad before 9 June if necessary - the England manager decided to utilise the Liverpool defender as a holding midfielder.
This is in preference to Michael Carrick and the disappointment of the Tottenham playmaker will be shared by Peter Crouch, who is to be omitted from the starting line-up at Old Trafford to allow Anfield team-mate Steven Gerrard the more adventurous midfield role his performances at club level have merited.
Gerrard will effectively act as a second striker behind Michael Owen in what Eriksson envisages as his first choice formation against Paraguay on 10 June, despite the Newcastle forward finding himself at the centre of another injury scare yesterday. Owen was photographed attending the Bupa clinic in Whalley Range - where Rooney underwent a CT scan on his fractured toe last week - for an appointment that re-ignited fears his recovery from a similar injury was still proving problematic just 10 days before the World Cup commences.
England insiders confirmed last night, however, that although Owen did have a scan at the clinic it concerned a slight thigh problem and was not connected to the metatarsal he broke at White Hart Lane on New Year's Eve. The 26-year-old is still expected to play the full 90 minutes against the Hungarians due to his relative inactivity this year, although that represents a major risk given lack of established international strikers in Eriksson's initial 23-man squad.
With Theo Walcott untested and Crouch sacrificed at the behest of a five-man midfield, the England manager can ill-afford to lose Owen, and his decision to seek clarification on Rooney's fitness on 7 June instead of 14 June as scheduled was arguably in recognition of the need to include an extra striker in Germany as much as the latest, bleaker assessment on the 20-year-old.
Eriksson met Sir Alex Ferguson yesterday morning for the first time since Rooney fractured the fourth toe of his right foot at Stamford Bridge on 29 April and was informed that, contrary to the quietly optimistic results of Friday, the talisman's prospects of even appearing in the knock-out stages of the World Cup are receding.
"Nothing has changed," repeated a clearly agitated Eriksson at a press conference to preview the Hungary game, but which again developed into a debate over one man's broken toe, even though an official statement released by United confirmed that the fracture "involves the joint" and is therefore harder to heal than first thought.
The situation has now changed as for the first time Eriksson has countenanced the idea that Rooney will not be involved and that he does require the insurance policy of Jermain Defoe or Andy Johnson in place before he submits his final squad list to Fifa on 9 June.
"I always thought Rooney could play," the England manager said. "I have always believed he will play, but I'm not a doctor. I'm supposed to be a manager. I have [gut] feelings. I think he will play in the World Cup. Nothing has changed for me. My request to do the scan before June 9 is a fair request. Manchester United understood the situation and they accepted it. If we had to wait until June 14 about the result of the scan, I couldn't do anything. That would give us nothing.
"It is much better to do it before, even though it might be early, because Fifa rules say we cannot change the list after June 9. There might hopefully be a good indication on June 7. I'm always positive about it and I'm not worried. I don't think there has been any change at all."
Logic supports Eriksson's insistence on a scan before 9 June but this latest development guarantees that the debate over Rooney's possible participation will continue to dominate England's preparations until just three days before their opening game in Frankfurt.
"I will not speak about Wayne Rooney after today, we will do it after June 7 when hopefully we will have a final decision," said the England manager in a forlorn attempt to stifle a debate that United privately believe he has encouraged.
"I agree it will be a distraction if it goes on until we leave for Germany but I think it is the right request from me to ask for a scan on June 7." Eriksson added: "Wayne Rooney is one of the best footballers in the world, but at a certain point we have 22 other players in the squad plus stand-by players, and they are really, really good football players, absolutely. We have to think that almost certainly Wayne Rooney will not start the World Cup. Other players will start and will do the job very well, but of course I will wait as long as possible. I would be very stupid if I did not."
The Swede's selection policy tonight supports the view that England's prospects are best served by a five-man midfield than an internationally inexperienced attack, although it will come as a severe set-back to Carrick to be overlooked at the expense of Carragher, a formidable central defender, in the holding role. Eriksson has preferred Ledley King and now Carragher to Carrick in that position, with the latter untested in midfield since breaking into the Liverpool team under Roy Evans in 1997, and he intends to keep faith with the formation providing it is a success.
"I want to see good football, good organisation, attacking and defending well against Hungary," said Eriksson. "We are less than two weeks from the World Cup and this is an important game. I haven't decided if Theo Walcott will come off the bench because we haven't decided anything about substitutes. Most of the players will play 90 minutes, it is not planned to give them 45 minutes here or there."
All change for Eriksson
* Hopes of Rooney going to the World Cup recede as "final" scan is brought forward to 7 June.
* Owen in new injury scare.
* Carragher to play holding role in midfield against Hungary tonight.
* Gerrard to act as second striker
* No starting place for Crouch.Reuse content