England's friendly against Denmark at Old Trafford on Sunday may seem a meaningless fixture, but its importance was underlined when Sven Goran Eriksson chose the team's Euro 2004 base in Portugal to reveal his squad.
Twenty-three rooms in the Hotel Solplay are earmarked for players and, as Trevor Sinclair proved two years ago, it is not too late to secure one. Although he is no longer involved in the squad, Sinclair made his international debut a similar distance from the World Cup and was then a fixture in Japan.
The uncapped players given a sight of Portugal yesterday were Glen Johnson and Scott Parker. A veteran, Gareth Southgate, was given fresh hope with an unexpected recall, but for James Beattie and Alan Smith the view is becoming obscured.
Beattie was omitted despite the absence of Michael Owen, reducing Eriksson to three fit strikers, Wayne Rooney, Emile Heskey and Darius Vassell.
"If he [Beattie] keeps working and scoring goals he may get back in," said Eriksson. It was pointed out that Beattie's seven Premiership goals this season eclipsed the total for Rooney, Heskey and Vassell combined. "You might be right," said Eriksson, "but my job is to pick people I think will do best for England in 2004."
It was a grim rebuff for Beattie and Smith, who appears still to be paying for his rash dismissal against Macedonia last October. Johnson, though, has been granted leniency after being sent off twice in the last month - this although his dismissal for the England Under-21s in Turkey has ruled him out of the opening Euro 2004 tie. "For every red card hopefully you learn not to do the same mistakes again," said Eriksson. "He is a big talent. It is nice to see him play. He has style."
Johnson, 19, has made only 22 League appearances but has established himself in Chelsea's glittering XI. Parker, 23, has been in the squad before, for the disastrous friendly against Australia in February. He was not among the six players given debuts that night and, despite consistent performances for Charlton, had not been called up again.
Given the strength of competition in midfield, Johnson is more likely to break into the summer squad. Though raw, he has far greater potential than Danny Mills, Gary Neville's current understudy. Southgate, who criticised Eriksson in his recent book, has been recalled because of injuries to Sol Campbell and Jonathan Woodgate and the unavailability, pending his disciplinary hearing, of Rio Ferdinand. Eriksson, who said he would stand as a character witness for Ferdinand if asked, said he hoped Ferdinand would be available in the summer, but knows he cannot dispense with Southgate in case he is not. Paul Scholes, Kieron Dyer, Owen Hargreaves and Owen were also ruled out through injury.
Yesterday's trip brought back happy memories for Eriksson who had a successful spell here as manager of Benfica, leading them to the 1990 European Cup final. However, there were some unwanted remembrances. Eriksson was asked to confirm he is suing Benfica over monies owing, believed to be £320,000. "It is an old story," he said wearily. They owe me money and for years I have tried to talk to them with lawyers. I have a new lawyer in Portugal and have given him all the permission he needs to do what he has to legally. I don't know exactly what is happening but, after 12 years, maybe it is time to do something."
England will arrive in Portugal on 7 June, five days before the tournament starts. They will warm up by hosting a three-team tournament involving Japan and another Euro 2004 qualifier to be arranged after the draw. Before then they will play Portugal in a friendly, probably in Faro, in February.
ENGLAND SQUAD V DENMARK
(Sunday, Old Trafford, KO 4pm)
James (West Ham United), Robinson (Leeds United), Walker (Leicester City); P Neville (Manchester United), G Neville (Man Utd), A Cole (Arsenal), Bridge (Chelsea), Mills (Leeds United), Johnson (Chelsea); Terry (Chelsea), Upson (Birmingham City), Southgate (Middlesbrough); Beckham (Real Madrid), Lampard (Chelsea), J Cole (Chelsea), Butt (Man Utd), Gerrard (Liverpool), Murphy (Liverpool), Parker (Charlton Athletic), Jenas (Newcastle United); Heskey (Liverpool), Rooney (Everton), Vassell (Aston Villa).
- More about:
- Alan Smithers
- Emile Heskey
- Gareth Southgate
- Michael Owen
- Premier League
- Stephen Carter
- Stoke City
- Wayne Rooney