The tradition of enmity between the two countries means that only the official classification will count it as a friendly but Sven Goran Eriksson said yesterday that his players would "behave" when they take on Argentina today.
The most telling test of England's potential to win the World Cup before next summer will also, their captain David Beckham admitted, be a sign as to whether Wayne Rooney and the new generation can stand the heat against one of the greatest experts in provocation in world football.
Played in Geneva because of a £2m windfall in television rights that the Football Association could not turn down, the old Swiss tradition of non-conflict is likely to be tested to its limits in an Argentinian side that includes Hernan Crespo, Juan Riquelme and the veteran defender Roberto Ayala. Eriksson said yesterday that he had spoken to his team about the need to stay calm for their last game until March.
"I will speak to all the squad and all the team, I am not worried about it," Eriksson said. "It is important that we behave, play well and play good football, that we are organised and we are calm. We have to approach it as a World Cup game and of course in those games you want to finish with 10 outfield players.
"Argentina are always a tough team with good footballers and a good attitude. I think it is a very good test for us and Wayne Rooney but hopefully the rest of the players too. We are going to take it very seriously and I am 100 per cent sure that Argentina will do the same. Nobody wants to lose this game. I think Wayne Rooney has been very calm lately so I am not worried."
Beckham, captaining England for the 50th time today, joked that many of his problems at Real Madrid had come when he faced Argentinian players, but said his side were prepared.
"I have come up against a couple of teams who are good at that [provocation] and we have had a few problems in the past," he said. "That's the way football is. We are well aware which players will wind our players up, and vice versa. We know we have to keep control of that."
While Eriksson will begin with a midfield of Beckham, Frank Lampard, Ledley King and Steven Gerrard, it is not clear whether he will deploy them in the diamond formation that many expect England to play. It emerged yesterday that he may return to a flat midfield four with Gerrard in an unfamiliar role on the left wing and King in a less defensive position than the holding role that he occupied so successfully against Poland.
That system would give England the width to attack Argentina but will mean that Gerrard, who has played on the right of midfield for Liverpool this season, would be asked to play in yet another new position. As expected, the England coach hinted broadly that Rio Ferdinand would be back in the side at the expense of Sol Campbell, who was picked in favour of Ferdinand against Austria.
Eriksson may not have been able to identify the referee who will take charge of this match but he said that he had written to all the club managers of his players to tell them that he would be treating the match "very seriously". Although he is allowed six substitutions, Eriksson, who will start with Wayne Bridge at left-back, will keep changes to a minimum.Reuse content