England will be able to call on Wayne Rooney but not Steven Gerrard for Friday's game away to Montenegro, in which a draw will see them through to next summer's European Championship finals in Poland and Ukraine. Fabio Capello was at Goodison Park to watch Gerrard make his third substitute's appearance of the season but the Liverpool captain does not believe he is ready for international football.
Although missing the injured Jack Wilshere and Tom Cleverley from central midfield, England can still use Gareth Barry and Scott Parker, a successful pairing in that area during the 3-0 win in Bulgaria last month. Rooney, who scored twice before half-time in that game, returned for yesterday's home match against Norwich after missing United's last two matches with a minor hamstring strain. "Rooney is different [to Gerrard]," Capello said. "He has played a lot of games. He has scored goals. He didn't play the last two games but he is fit. Steven is different. He didn't play for four months."
Striking options have improved as Darren Bent was back for Aston Villa yesterday. Andy Carroll and Tottenham's Jermain Defoe are also available, which should enable United's Danny Welbeck to stay with the Under-21s, who have two important qualification matches.
Rio Ferdinand can return to the defence, but his United club-mate Chris Smalling is unavailable, so Micah Richards and Phil Jagielka will be rivals for the right-back position. The other decision to be made about the squad is whether Theo Walcott, who needs a fitness test before today's north London derby, keeps out Shaun Wright-Phillips, enjoying a new lease of life at Queens Park Rangers.
Capello insists there will be no thought of playing for a draw. "Absolutely not. We need to go and play our normal game. If you think about a draw, we will make a mistake. We have to think we need to win." Fortunately they do not need to, and even a defeat should enable them to progress to the finals as the runners-up with most points. But talking to his compatriot Giovanni Trapattoni, who took the Republic of Ireland to Podgorica for a World Cup qualifying game, has convinced Capello that the atmosphere will be "noisy and intense" and that his team must not submit to any provocation.
Montenegro brought off a surprise by achieving a goalless draw at Wembley last October, but have faltered since then, drawing at home to Bulgaria and losing 2-1 to Wales, after which they sacked the coach Zlatko Kranjcar and promoted his former assistant Branko Brnovic.
Lack of goals has been a problem – five in six games – and they fear missing out to Switzerland, who are three points behind them, for second place. But victory over England would offer them every incentive going into the final match away to the Swiss on Tuesday week. Wales, meanwhile, are hoping to build on a spirited performance in defeat at Wembley by finishing well at home to Switzerland on Friday and in Bulgaria next week.
England squad (probable): Hart, Fielding, Stockdale; Richards, Jagielka, Terry, Ferdinand, Cahill, Lescott, Cole, Baines; Barry, Parker, Lampard, Milner; Downing, Young, Johnson, Walcott or Wright-Phillips; Rooney, Bent, Carroll, Defoe.