John Terry will sit out England's friendly against Italy next week, although the Football Association will maintain that it has nothing to do with the Chelsea captain's upcoming disciplinary hearing over a charge of racial abuse against Anton Ferdinand.
It will be announced today by Roy Hodgson, when he names his squad at lunchtime, that Terry is being rested, along with his three fellow first-choice defenders from the European Championship this summer – Ashley Cole, Joleon Lescott and Glen Johnson.
With the FA intensely aware that this international fixture is unpopular among Premier League managers, Hodgson will try his best to juggle the demands of the clubs with preparing a competitive team for the game in Switzerland on Wednesday.
The omission of the four defenders is a nod to the fact that the quartet started every one of the four Euro 2012 games and, as a result, joined up with pre-season training with their clubs later. In Terry's case, the FA made clear when it charged him on 27 July over the Ferdinand incident that he would still be available to play for England.
Nevertheless, the decision presents Hodgson with some shortages in defence. Micah Richards, who played for Great Britain at the 2012 Olympics, will not be included. Phil Jones returned early from Manchester United's pre-season tour with an injury and is unavailable. His team-mate Chris Smalling is still recovering from an operation on a broken metatarsal.
It would seem inevitable that Gary Cahill, who missed Euro 2012 with a broken jaw, will be in the squad, alongside Phil Jagielka and potentially Michael Dawson, another injury absentee from the summer. There is a fourth place among the centre-halves up for grabs with Rio Ferdinand, it appears, now on the outside of international football. It might go to Liverpool's Martin Kelly again, who would offer cover at right-back.
Hodgson will pick at least two of the Team GB trio of Ryan Bertrand, Daniel Sturridge and Tom Cleverley and possibly all three of them. Frank Lampard and Kyle Walker, both injured for Euro 2012, are also back in the squad for the game that will be played in Berne.
Adam Johnson, who was cut from the squad for the 2010 World Cup and was only on standby this summer for Euro 2012, is likely to come back into contention. With Scott Parker recovering from an Achilles operation, Jordan Henderson could hold on to the place in the squad that he had at Euro 2012. Goalkeeper Jack Butland is also expected to keep his place in the squad with no Under-21s fixture next week.
Between them, Hodgson and his assistant Ray Lewington have spoken to most of the Premier League managers who have England internationals in their squads over the last few days. Under the changes agreed by Fifa with the European Club Association last season, this friendly fixture will be scrapped next season but, as it stands, the FA has no option but to go ahead with the game. All the major European nations are playing next week, including the world and European champions Spain who are travelling to Puerto Rico for a friendly. Germany play Argentina in Frankfurt while the Netherlands face Belgium in Brussels. England's first opponents in 2014 World Cup qualifying, Moldova, who they play next month, have a friendly against Albania.
The FA has sold out its ticket allocation of 3,000 for the game on Wednesday which has been organised by the sports rights agency Kentaro who manage the fixtures of the Italian Football Federation.
Wembley could not be used because of its status as an Olympic venue which means that, at the time the game was arranged, it was subject to a two-week grace period after the end of the Games during which it could not be used.
England are now rated, improbably, as the third best team in the world under Fifa's official rankings and face an Italy team that is also expected to be severely weakened. Hodgson's assistant Gary Neville has warned not to read too much into the game. "You have to consider what you want out of a game," he said. "We are at the end of pre-season, the league is just about to start and we have three days to prepare, so you are not going to get a perfect performance. Also I am not quite sure it will have an effect on the Moldova game. I played in a lot of England friendlies when the result wasn't backed up in the competitive matches afterwards.
"What we need is a good quality performance to keep the momentum going. We are unbeaten so far in terms of normal football and are developing a squad that can take the country towards the World Cup."
Roy Hodgson's England squad will have a number of absentees when it is announced today:
Gareth Barry (Manchester City; hernia operation)
Scott Parker (Tottenham; Achilles)
Ashley Cole (Chelsea)
Glen Johnson (Liverpool)
Phil Jones (Manchester United)
Joleon Lescott (Manchester City)
Micah Richards (Manchester City)
Chris Smalling (Manchester United)
John Terry (Chelsea)
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