The England manager, Fabio Capello, will break one of his own rules today and select Manchester United's Ben Foster for the matches against Slovakia and Ukraine at Wembley, even though he is not playing regular club football. The guidelines that apply to David Beckham and other outfield players are being moved in order to assess at first hand a goalkeeper whose progress has regularly been handicapped by injury.
Foster, who never played for England Under-21s, was called into a senior squad for Steve McClaren's first game as manager in August 2006. He made one appearance, against Spain in February 2007, but after being recalled by United following two years on loan at Watford, he was unavailable for nine months with a knee ligament injury. Six appearances for the first team this season have included one Champions' League game away to Celtic and the Carling Cup final against Tottenham, in which he was named man of the match.
"When I arrived here, all the managers told me Foster is a very good keeper, but he was always injured," Capello said. "I've watched him and he surprised me with his confidence. He'll be with us. Depending on Sir Alex [Ferguson] of course!"
The squad who lost to Spain should be strengthened by the return of Rio Ferdinand, Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney. Jonathan Woodgate is pressing for a recall, and in view of the knee injury that may keep Theo Walcott out for several weeks, Aaron Lennon, who is in excellent form, could be promoted this week or next from the Under-21s. With Shaun Wright-Phillips also playing well and Beckham impressing the manager when he watched him playing for Milan, England suddenly have a surfeit of riches in one position down the right.
The Aston Villa contingent will be cut, with James Milner out and team-mates Ashley Young and Gabriel Agbonlahor under threat, although the manager said of Agbonlahor: "For forwards, goals are like medicine: very, very important."
The Villa striker has suffered from a growing trend towards individual abuse by fans, which Capello observed in Italy and Spain but not until this season in England. He is appealing once more to the Wembley crowd to back his team "as a 12th man" in Saturday's friendly and the more important World Cup tie on Wednesday week.