Steve McClaren announced a 27-man England squad yesterday for the European Championship double header against Estonia and Russia and did his best to suggest that his focus is on the first game, against Estonia at Wembley next Saturday. However, the fact that McClaren is considering omitting the captain, John Terry, against Estonia revealed that the England manager has mainly Moscow on his mind.
Terry is nursing a broken toe and played for Chelsea in Valencia on Wednesday night wearing a face mask to protect a suppressed fracture of the cheek, but it is the yellow card Terry collected against Israel that is swaying McClaren's thinking. A second yellow would mean Terry is suspended against Russia.
"It's a consideration," McClaren said of resting Terry, adding that he would not describe it as "a massive call".
It would not be illogical to omit Terry. Estonia have scored three times in 10 qualifiers and two of those goals were at home to Andorra. They have lost their best forward, Andres Oper, to injury and the prospect of them penning England in their own half at Wembley is remote. Any defence England field should be able to cope with the country second bottom of the group.
For those reasons, as well as allowing injuries more time to recover, leaving out Terry makes sense. Rio Ferdinand and Ashley Cole are also on yellow cards and one of them could also be given a watching brief against Estonia. By naming nine defenders in his squad McClaren has left another clue as to a possible defensive rotation policy that may see Everton's Joleon Lescott win a first cap at some point.
"The team I will pick for Estonia I think can win that game," McClaren said, "but I will look at the bigger picture as well. We have quite a few players on bookings and we have to take that into account."
Questions will inevitably be raised about a selection policy that is not take-each-game-as-it-comes but McClaren spoke of "the bigger picture", which is about ensuring England depart Moscow with a point. Assuming Estonia are beaten at Wembley – and England won 3-0 in Tallinn in June with a defence of Wes Brown, Ledley King, Terry and Wayne Bridge – four points from the two games could be enough to see England qualify.
Estonia do have to be overcome to fulfil the first part of the equation of course and McClaren was awaiting a bulletin on Michael Owen's fitness from Newcastle yesterday.
"He's had his operation," McClaren said of Owen. "It went well, he's been training with a physio all week, training with Newcastle United today and tomorrow. It's up to Newcastle what they do with him. They will assess him, hopefully he plays [against Everton tomorrow] comes through, joins up on Tuesday, where he will be assessed by us.
"Hopefully he does well in training. If Michael Owen is fit, Michael Owen will play. He has proved how important he is to us over the games he has played, especially the last two games. He got us the goals that won us the games. That's what we have been missing for quite a while. He provides those goals."
Newcastle manager Sam Allardyce, who is extremely weary of the Owen/ England issue, said yesterday afternoon that Owen had trained with Newcastle's first team squad in the morning for the first time since his hernia operation in Munich last weekend and that the plan was for Owen to join in again this morning. Depending on his readiness, Owen should then be involved in some capacity – probably on the bench – for the visit of Everton to St. James' Park tomorrow.
"It's very encouraging," said Allardyce. "We knew Michael's recovery would be very good because of the surgeon he's been with. She's done a terrific job and the abductor looks to have healed well. His general fitness is not too bad. The longer history of this season hasn't been great and this problem certainly arose by playing those two games for England after he played for us against Wigan. That's the start of where we are now."
As trailed, West Ham's Dean Ashton has been called up and there is a recall for Peter Crouch after suspension. McClaren acknowledged "niggles" to a few of the squad and form issues but it does not appear that one of those experiencing difficulties, Tottenham keeper Paul Robinson, will be dropped.
* England squad for Euro 2008 qualifiers against Estonia at Wembley on 13 October and Russia in Moscow on 17 October:
Robinson (Tottenham), James (Portsmouth), Carson (Liverpool, on loan at Aston Villa), Richards (Man City), Brown (Man Utd), Ferdinand (Man Utd), Terry (Chelsea), A Cole (Chelsea), P Neville (Everton), Campbell (Portsmouth), Lescott (Everton), Shorey (Reading), Wright-Phillips (Chelsea), Gerrard (Liverpool), Barry (Aston Villa), J Cole (Chelsea), Downing (Middlesbrough), Lampard (Chelsea), Young (Aston Villa), Bentley (Blackburn), Owen (Newcastle), Rooney (Man Utd), Smith (Newcastle), Ashton (West Ham), Defoe (Tottenham), Johnson (Everton), Crouch (Liverpool).Reuse content