The promise of youth yesterday presented three old hands with the chance to audition for a role on the game's premier stage. Darren Anderton, who has played in a World Cup, and Kevin Phillips and Chris Powell, who have not, were given the opportunity to revive international careers which had seemed over.
The need for England's young players to gain tournament experience has persuaded Sven Goran Eriksson to allow the Under-21s, who play the Netherlands in Utrecht in the first leg of their European Championship play-off on Friday, to keep their brightest and best. Thus the likes of Wayne Bridge, Owen Hargreaves and Darius Vassell remain with the juniors rather than stepping up to the seniors, who play Sweden in a friendly at Old Trafford the following day.
Also included in 26-man first-team party for Old Trafford are the strikers Michael Owen and Alan Smith, who return from injury, and Frank Lampard. The Chelsea midfielder had been dropped from the squad to play Greece last month after his involvement in another footballing episode of young men behaving badly. David Seaman, Nick Barmby, Andy Cole, Sol Campbell and Wes Brown are injured, Ashley Cole is rested after showing signs of fatigue, and Steve McManaman has club commitments in Spain.
Phillips won the last of his six caps a year ago this month and, after featuring in Eriksson's first squad without playing, has not figured under the Swede. Without an international goal he has developed the unfortunate habit of playing badly whenever Eriksson is watching then scoring when he is not. This is surely his last chance.
"I think he is playing much better this season and so I am interested to see him," said Eriksson. "It is the same with Darren [Anderton]. He is doing well and playing regularly. I saw him last season when he was still recovering from injuries but this season I think he is playing better.
"I don't know him at all at the moment only what I have seen from the stands. It will be good to get a closer look." Anderton has 29 caps dating back to 1994 but last played for England in Turin under Peter Taylor. Plagued by injury, this is his first call-up under Eriksson.
Powell, 32, was the surprise summons of Eriksson's first squad but, after winning four caps, was dropped before September's qualifier in Munich. Eriksson has been impressed with his response, notably when playing against Liverpool 10 days ago.
Powell's recall would appear to spell the end for Graeme Le Saux, a year older but vastly more experienced. All three should get an outing at Old Trafford. There is little point in calling them up otherwise and Eriksson, as is his practice in friendlies, intends to make many substitutions.
That could mean debuts for the two uncapped players in the squad, Danny Murphy and Trevor Sinclair, both of whom are in good form for their clubs.
There could also, said Eriksson, be some tactical tinkering though he indicated that was more likely in England's next game, against the Netherlands in February. By then he will know who England will face in the World Cup's group stage.
With only two more friendlies before Eriksson names his final 22, against Italy in March and an undetermined opponent in April, playing time is short. Barring injury there are probably eight certainties (Beckham, Owen, Gerrard, Ferdinand, Scholes, Martyn, Gary Neville and Heskey). Thus another 14 places are up for grabs but competition is intense. Around 30 players can still harbour hope of inclusion though opportunities are running out for long-term injury-victims like David James and Kieron Dyer.
Sweden, unbeaten by England in more than 30 years, will provide a good test. They may be lacking their best players, Henrik Larsson and Patrik Andersson, but the qualities of industry and reliability which make Scandinavians such attractive purchases for British clubs should also ensure this is a competitive friendly rather than an exhibition.
When the emotion of the day passes which will not take long even if there are three Svenssons in the Swedish squad to greet Sven Eriksson will be passing judgement for real. Those fringe players who make the pitch on Saturday must seize the day. None more so than Phillips, Powell and Anderton.
* Sven Goran Eriksson was last night named Sweden's Personality of the Year at the Stockholm Football Gala. He said: "Thanks to David Beckham who scored the lovely free-kick against Greece. I will share the prize with Tord Grip, the man who has done so much for me."
ENGLAND SQUAD V SWEDEN
(International friendly, Old Trafford, Saturday, 3.0)
Nigel Martyn (Leeds Utd), Richard Wright (Arsenal), Ian Walker (Leicester); Martin Keown (Arsenal), Rio Ferdinand (Leeds Utd), Danny Mills (Leeds Utd), Chris Powell (Charlton), Jamie Carragher (Liverpool), Gary Neville (Manchester Utd), Phil Neville (Manchester Utd), Gareth Southgate (Middlesbrough), Ugo Ehiogu (Middlesbrough), David Beckham (Manchester Utd), Paul Scholes (Manchester Utd), Nicky Butt (Manchester Utd), Danny Murphy (Liverpool), Steven Gerrard (Liverpool), Trevor Sinclair (West Ham), Frank Lampard (Chelsea), Darren Anderton (Tottenham), Emile Heskey (Liverpool), Michael Owen (Liverpool), Robbie Fowler (Liverpool), Kevin Phillips (Sunderland), Alan Smith (Leeds Utd), Teddy Sheringham (Tottenham).Reuse content