Fabio Capello is not a man who likes to leave things to chance, but England go into their final significant pre-World Cup warm-up against Japan in Graz tomorrow with too many questions unanswered for comfort. The England manager will be hoping to resolve several pressing issues, and to avoid further injuries.
Is Heskey still the first-choice centre-forward?
Emile Heskey has not scored a goal in eons, for England or Aston Villa, but as he never was in the side for his goal-scoring prowess this is not the issue it might be for a centre-forward. Heskey's value is in the space he creates for Wayne Rooney, the bruises he takes for him and the outlet he provides. Nevertheless, he is short on confidence and match-practice while Peter Crouch, his main rival, is buoyant having rediscovered the useful habit of scoring international goals.
Heskey will have to convince Capello tomorrow he remains the man for the job, though bullying the Japanese is not quite the same as dominating defenders in the latter stages of a World Cup. There is also the prospect of a late run from Darren Bent, in form this season, and likely to be given at least half-an-hour to show he's worth a squad place.
Who will fill Gareth Barry's holding midfield role?
"Events dear boy, events.'' As Harold Macmillan once observed, the best-laid plans can be disrupted by unexpected happenings. Gareth Barry's late-season injury was a bad blow for Capello, maybe only Rooney has become as crucial to his team, especially with Owen Hargreaves already lamed. Thus the SOS to Paul Scholes, and the likelihood that Barry will travel even though not fit.
While the Manchester City man recuperates, an understudy must be found. Michael Carrick fluffed his audition against Mexico on Monday and while Steven Gerrard performed well as an emergency replacement Capello understandably prefers him further forward.
This leaves Tom Huddlestone in pole position with Scott Parker an outside bet. Huddlestone is a fine passer, has a powerful shot and has had a good season, but he is inexperienced at this level and lacks mobility. Parker is a stronger tackler, has a driving game and, at club level, has thrived on responsibility. However, he has not played at international level for some years and has previously been found wanting at the top level, with England and Chelsea. Maybe Carrick will get a second chance.
Can Joe Cole nail down a place?
Cole, once the English game's great hope, forever seems on the cusp of making a breakthrough only to suffer injury. He was one of the best England players in the last World Cup, and he did well in Capello's early games. But he last played for England in September 2008 and has had a season marked by injuries and indifferent form. That last game was, however, the rout of Croatia in Zagreb, and few English players are as technically adept, or as aware of openings on the ball. Less impressive, however, off the ball, which does not impress Capello
Which of the three contenders gets the goalkeeper's jersey?
Capello has three good, but not outstanding, candidates to take the No 1 shirt. David James has the international experience, but he is 40 in August, has suffered an injury-hit season, and remains prone to lapses of judgement when rushing out of goal. Robert Green has generally looked solid, and made two outstanding saves against Mexico, but then spilled a relatively straightforward shot. Joe Hart looks a class act, but his international experience is brief indeed. James should play tomorrow, which makes it his shirt to lose.
Should Warnock go instead of Baines?
A peripheral issue this one, since the reserve left-back should not have to do anything more than collect cones and hand out drinks, but if Ashley Cole gets injured it will become a position of prime importance. Left-back is one of the tougher gigs in this England team because Gerrard has licence to go walkabout from left wing. Cole is capable of doing it, but Leighton Baines has not looked the part so Steven Warnock may be given a last chance to grab a seat on the plane.