Having put in a triple shift in the North-west yesterday, taking in games at Blackburn, Blackpool and Manchester United, Fabio Capello was stunned to learn that six of his potential England squad are expected to miss the opening European Championship matches against Bulgaria on Friday and Switzerland on Tuesday week. They are Chelsea's Frank Lampard and John Terry, who are definitely out, Tottenham strikers Peter Crouch and Jermain Defoe, and the Fulham pair Bobby Zamora and David Stockdale.
Terry is ruled out with injuries to his right hamstring and glute muscles, and "would benefit from a period of rest and rehabilition", according to the Chelsea website. Lampard needs surgery on his groin after being substituted in the 72nd minute of Chelsea's victory over Stoke, and the club medical staff decided he must undergo keyhole surgery as soon as possible. Manager Carlo Ancelotti said: "We had the same kind of thing with Didier Drogba earlier in the summer and he will be out for one or two weeks."
Crouch, who was due to be welcomed back into the fold after being dropped for the friendly against Hungary earlier this month, suffered a rib injury against Wigan, which the the Spurs manager Harry Redknapp said may be a break. Defoe was already lined up for groin surgery.
Zamora is the third striker likely to miss out, Fulham's manager Mark Hughes rating him "doubtful" after he took a knock to his thigh at Blackpool. In the same game Stockdale, who was due to be called up as the third goalkeeper, turned an ankle.
Darren Bent, Michael Carrick and Tom Huddlestone could all be beneficiaries and if Jack Wilshere and Newcastle's Andy Carroll stay with the Under-21s, there may be a reprieve for Gabriel Agbonlahor and Liverpool's Joe Cole, who also missed the Hungary game. At least Wayne Rooney should be fit, Capello having admitted, "I'm afraid [for him] because he needs to play", before watching him score for United last night.
Neither Paul Scholes or Everton's Spanish midfielder Mikel Arteta will be included when the squad is named at 8pm this evening. "The future is for young players," Capello said when asked about David Beckham. Scholes, who admitted he regretted not making himself available for the World Cup when he was given barely 24 hours to make a decision in May, finally told the England manager last week that he was too old for regular international football while playing in the Premier League and Champions' League for Manchester United.
Arteta's position is in abeyance because neither he nor the Football Association will make the first move. He must apply for a British passport, which will take several months, but last night his manager David Moyes said: "It can't be a cop-out by the FA. If they want him, they should say it."
Capello, who is believed to have talked with Arteta, did not seem over-excited by the prospect, insisting: "I like to speak about players I can select. He's not English." He repeated that phrase twice at a briefing for Sunday newspapers which indicated he is not taking too seriously the increasingly venomous criticism he is receiving in certain quarters. On Wednesday, the publication that once turned Graham Taylor's head into a turnip put a pair of pointed ears on Capello, calling him "gormless... donkey... silly ass".
Whether or not he reads The Sun, Capello's response was defiant. "I walk around the city and the people always is really kind with me. I'm a fighter. One moment you are the best, [then] you lose one game and you are a bad man. I no understand why before was so good and after was so bad. You have to live with this situation."
What he does understand is the primacy of results, recalling similar criticism (without the ass's ears) during a difficult year at Real Madrid, which ended when he recalled Beckham from exile and Madrid won La Liga. That is why, despite the manager's claim that "it's only two games," England need a good five days to follow up the 2-1 victory that Steven Gerrard inspired when things were looking grim against the Hungarians.
Bulgaria tend to be dour opponents, who have neither beaten England nor provided much in the way of entertainment in their eight meetings; the first of them, a goalless draw at the 1962 World Cup, was described by Johnny Haynes as "the worst match I ever turned out in".
More relevantly the Bulgarians finished third behind Italy and the Republic of Ireland in the most recent World Cup qualifying group.
As for the criticism of Capello's English, to which Gary Lineker added last weekend, he believes results have coloured that too. "I never had problems with the players. Everything was OK, I was a fantastic manager, I spoke fantastic English, [until] we lost against Germany. Communication between me and the players was really, really good always, no problem about my English. I read the view of Gary Lineker. I think that my English is much better than his Spanish!"
Possible squad Hart, Foster, Lewis; G Johnson, Jagielka, Upson, Dawson, Cahill, A Cole, Gibbs; Barry, Gerrard, Carrick, Huddlestone, A Johnson, Milner, Walcott, Young; Agbonlahor, Bent, C Cole, Rooney.
England v Bulgaria
Played 8 Won 4, Drawn 4, Lost 0; For 9 Against 2.
At Wembley (England scores first) 1-1, 2-0, 1-0, 0-0.
Biggest win 3-0 in Sofia, 1979 (scorers: Kevin Keegan, Dave Watson, Peter Barnes).
Friday's other European Championship qualifiers
Armenia v Republic of Ireland (Yerevan, 4pm, Sky Sports 1)
After a World Cup campaign that contained too many draws – climaxing in the controversial one in Paris – Ireland could do with a convincing away win to begin life in Group B. Armenia are not even the minnows of the section (Andorra claim that dubious privilege). They took only four points from their 10 qualifying games for the last World Cup and although their coach Vardan Minbasyan is playing the patriotic card, an Irish victory really ought to be achievable.
Lithuania v Scotland (Kaunas, 7.15pm, BBC Scotland)
Four times in a row these countries have been drawn together in a European Championship and though the Scots always managed to win at home (3-0, 1-0, 3-1) they have succeeded only once in the three away games. Recalling the 40-year-old David Weir suggests there is not an abundance of young talent (as well as offering hope to David Beckham), though Weir has unhappy memories of the stadium, where Rangers lost in a Champions' League qualifying round two years ago.
Montenegro v Wales (Podgorica, 6.30pm, Sky Sports 3)
Even with Arsenal midfielder Aaron Ramsay injured, Wales are more optimistic than for some time and this tie in England's group will be a good test of their resolve at a venue where they lost a friendly 2-1 a year ago. The Millwall striker Steve Morison had an encouraging debut in a 5-1 friendly victory at home to Luxembourg earlier this month and will add another option to the more experienced pairing of Cardiff City new boy Craig Bellamy and Nottingham Forest's Rob Earnshaw.
Slovenia v Northern Ireland (Maribor, 7.45pm, Sky Sports 1)
Nigel Worthington's squad will at least know what to expect after two games with Slovenia in World Cup qualifying. They lost 2-0 in Maribor but won the return 1-0 in Belfast with a goal by Warren Feeney. They were not disgraced in that group, staying in contention until the later stages and finishing five points behind the Slovenes – who went to the finals, where they beat Algeria, drew 2-2 with the USA and lost to Jermain Defoe's goal against England.