Ben Foster was Fabio Capello's first choice goalkeeper to start against the Netherlands on Wednesday but the England manager was given cause to think again after another unconvincing performance from the Manchester United man yesterday. Watching at Wembley, Capello saw Foster look less than sound for both Chelsea's goals in a 2-2 draw that United lost on penalties.
There had been an instinct among the Capello camp to give Foster what would be only his second start for his country in Amsterdam when the squad was named on Saturday without the injured David James and that may well stand. However, Capello was given plenty of reasons to think again by the 26-year-old who continued a poor run of pre-season form.
With Edwin van der Sar out, Foster made a bad job of punching clear Florent Malouda's cross in the build-up to Ricardo Carvalho's equaliser and was almost caught in possession twice by Didier Drogba in the first half. Frank Lampard's goal in the 70th minute also seemed to go straight through the United goalkeeper. There was little the United goalkeeper could do about Chelsea's expertly taken four penalties.
James is making a slower than expected recovery from a shoulder operation and is yet to play a pre-season match, although he hopes to be ready for his club's Premier League opener against Fulham. With Foster injured in June, Robert Green played in the World Cup qualifiers against Kazakhstan and Andorra and he is Foster's chief rival for a starting place on Wednesday.
Foster was selected by Sir Alex Ferguson ahead of Tomasz Kuszczak for yesterday's defeat but the United manager had admitted on Friday that it was a close call between the two goalkeepers. Having said earlier in the summer that he fully expected Foster, 26, to be England's first choice goalkeeper come the World Cup next summer, Ferguson was given cause for doubt by some of the pre-season performances.
On Foster, Ferguson said: "He should have done better for the second goal, knowing the ability he has. He's waited a long time, had his injuries. In pre-season I spread the load between Van der Sar, Ben and Tomasz and maybe he hasn't had enough minutes. We know his ability. Knowing that ability, I don't have any worries about him."
The United goalkeeper was badly at fault during a game against a Malaysian select XI in which he miscontrolled a ball on the edge of his area and conceded a goal. By contrast, Kuszczak has been excellent in pre-season and can feel aggrieved that he was left out in favour of Foster yesterday in the absence of Van der Sar who has broken fingers.
Foster's only other start for England was against Spain in February 2007 under Steve McClaren. He has suffered a debilitating cruciate ligament injury and a broken finger but now finds himself with an opportunity after injuries to the No 1 goalkeepers at his club and for his country.
Michael Owen has been left out of the England squad, as reported in The Independent on Friday. The United striker has scored four goals in pre-season for United but struggled in the friendly against Valencia at Old Trafford on Wednesday night when Capello was in attendance. There are still lingering doubts in the England hierarchy that Owen will ever be suitable to play in the new formation that pairs Wayne Rooney with a traditional targetman like Emile Heskey.
Ferguson said yesterday that he was not surprised Owen had been omitted from the England squad. He said: "He's just arrived at the club. His pre-season work has been very promising for us. He's not missed a training session and shown great attitude, good professionalism. Once he starts getting regular football for us, which he will do, that's the formula for him to get into the England squad.
"I didn't expect Fabio to pick him on the back of what he did 10 years ago, but if he does well for us. I hope he does go to the World Cup because that would be a great tribute to him, and it would have meant he'd done well for us."
Peter Crouch has also been left out of the squad by Capello because he has not played in a pre-season friendly yet this summer. The Tottenham striker, who played his first game yesterday for Spurs against Olympiakos at White Hart Lane, has missed out on a large part of pre-season while his move from Portsmouth was finalised.
Capello will not select players who have not proved their match fitness but Crouch is not out of the England reckoning. Carlton Cole keeps his place in the squad from June when five strikers were picked by Capello.
Goalkeeper: Foster (Man Utd), Green (West Ham), Robinson (Blackburn)
Defenders: Bridge (Man City), A Cole, Terry (both Chelsea), Ferdinand (Man Utd), Johnson (Liverpool), Lescott (Everton), Upson (West Ham)
Midfielders: Barry, Wright-Phillips (both Man City), Beckham (LA Galaxy), Carrick (Man Utd), Gerrard (Liverpool), Lampard (Chelsea), Milner, Young (both Aston Villa), Walcott (Arsenal)
Forwards: C Cole (West Ham), Defoe (Spurs), Heskey (Aston Villa), Rooney (Man Utd)