Leighton Baines to make first competitive start for England


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The Independent Football

Leighton Baines was today set to be handed his first competitive start for England after Ashley Cole was ruled out of Friday's opening World Cup qualifier against Moldova.

Despite being part of the international set-up for more than three years, Everton left-back Baines has only one previous competitive appearance - as a substitute for Cole in last year's European Championship qualifier against Switzerland.

But the 27-year-old is significantly more experienced than the other left-back in the squad, Cole's Chelsea team-mate Ryan Bertrand, who won his first cap in last month's friendly against Italy.

Friday's Group H game in Chisinau would be Baines' 10th appearance.

It would have been Cole's 99th but for the ankle injury that forced him to pull out of the match - a problem the 31-year-old has been struggling with since Chelsea's UEFA Super Cup defeat against Atletico Madrid on Friday.

He was set to be reassessed on Sunday to determine whether he would be fit for England's home game against Ukraine next Tuesday.

It was unclear whether his ankle injury was related to the long-standing issue that has needed to be managed after matches for club and country.

John Terry last night looked to have won his battle to be fit for the double-header after playing a full part in training at the national team's London Colney base yesterday afternoon.

The Chelsea captain seemed completely untroubled by his recent neck injury as he headed several balls during the session of more than an hour.

Striker Andy Carroll had already been ruled out of both games after suffering a hamstring injury on his West Ham debut on Saturday.

England boss Roy Hodgson was already without Wayne Rooney, who suffered a gashed leg playing for Manchester United before the squad was named.

Sixteen of England's 22 remaining players trained yesterday, with those involved in matches on Sunday restricted to gym work: captain Steven Gerrard, Danny Welbeck, Glen Johnson, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Michael Carrick and Tom Cleverley.

Hodgson allowed the session to remain open to the media throughout after it was initially scheduled to take place behind closed doors after the first 15 minutes.

Moldova will be most familiar to England's players and fans from the World Cup qualifiers the two countries played in 1996 and 1997.

Those saw the Three Lions rack up easy 3-0 and 4-0 wins but Hodgson was so determined for his players not to take Friday's match lightly that he will order them to imagine they were playing Brazil.

He said: "If we are not aware of the fact that this is a major hurdle of the 10 hurdles we have to jump over, then we would be very, very foolish.

"And, certainly, my message to the players is that, 'I don't care if they are called Moldova. As far as I'm concerned, they could be called Brazil and we have to produce a performance to win us the game'.

"And if it turns out that perhaps they are not that good after all then I will be very happy."