Richards in line for England debut

As is the norm with an international friendly looming, Steve McClaren lost a handful of players from his England squad over the weekend. He will just be grateful that apart from Gary Neville the absentees would have mainly been keeping the bench warm against the Netherlands in Amsterdam on Wednesday.

Neville aggravated a calf injury in Manchester United's win over Blackburn and he was joined by the striker Darren Bent, the midfielders Stewart Downing and Scott Parker, and the Spurs defender Ledley King in pulling out. Also, Chris Kirkland, Wigan's goalkeeper, has been given leave of absence as his wife is due to give birth this week.

McClaren will not draft in any more players so Micah Richards, the Manchester City full-back, has a good chance of becoming the youngest defender to play for England in Neville's absence. Bent's hamstring injury opens the way for Everton's Andy Johnson to play some part in attack.

Meanwhile, McClaren ­ maybe unintentionally ­ yesterday highlighted the reasons why David Beckham does not feature in his plans: pace, penetration and mobility. Aaron Lennon possesses all three; Beckham seemingly does not. "Beckham is a very good player," McClaren said. "[But] from day one I wanted to bring in pace, penetration, mobility and athleticism to the team. [Aaron] Lennon, Johnson and [Joe] Cole epitomise that. As does Micah.

"Beckham's chances have not decreased but I am only looking forward to meeting the players who are in the squad. There are some exciting players, and three that stand out are Lennon, Johnson and Cole. They have pace, can beat people and excite the public while winning you matches. I have watched Aaron a lot and he is very effective. He is a real threat. It is the blend in midfield which we are searching for."

While McClaren was focussing on the future, his predecessor, Sven Goran Eriksson, was looking back over his reign, claiming a job well done. "I think we did rather well. Of course, sometimes we didn't. But if you look at the whole picture, it was a good five and a half years. We were unlucky. In the big tournaments we went out against Brazil in Japan ­ and I still don't know how Ronaldinho scored that goal ­ and twice we went out against Portugal on penalties. If you miss three or four penalties, you don't go through."

Eriksson also defended taking the untried Theo Walcott to the World Cup. "It was a good decision. It's good for England, it's good for Walcott, good for the future. Where are the other good English centre-forwards? I saw 120 Premiership games every year and I couldn't find out. They talk about [Jermain] Defoe. He had a very bad season last season. I don't think he deserved to go."

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