Fabio Capello will name his latest England squad on Sunday night as England prepare for their final match of 2009.
Following Capello’s desire to face the toughest possible opposition in friendlies the Three Lions will face Brazil, the side currently ranked number one in the world, in Qatar next Saturday.
The friendly represents the penultimate match for Capello to fine-tune his team and test out any new selections with only one more friendly date in March remaining before he names his final 23-man squad for the World Cup at the end of May.
It remains to be seen to what extent the Italian will want to experiment from this first XI against such tough opposition but it looks almost certain that several key players will be ruled out of the clash which will perhaps force his hand.
Manchester United have today confirmed that Rio Ferdinand is facing a spell on the sidelines, reported to be up to six weeks, as he seeks to finally put his various back and calf injuries behind him.
Matt Upson would once again stand in for Ferdinand alongside John Terry with Joleon Lescott and Gary Cahill most likely to provide back-up.
Steven Gerrard hasn’t featured for Liverpool since limping out early on of their defeat to Lyon two weeks ago and looks unlikely to join up with England even if he does feature for Liverpool against Birmingham on Monday night.
Other absentees include widemen Theo Walcott and Aaron Lennon, with James Milner also doubtful with a calf injury after he missed Aston Villa’s defeat to West Ham on Wednesday.
Carlton Cole limped out of that game after just half an hour and Emile Heskey also had to be replaced at half-time providing Capello with a potential headache up front if neither features this weekend.
Walcott and Lennon’s absence would normally free up the right-wing position for David Beckham but his participation in the game is not yet assured as his club side L.A Galaxy face a possible Conference semi-final on the very same weekend as the Brazil fixture meaning that he may not be released by his club.
Therefore, Capello will be particularly anxious that nothing befalls Shaun Wright-Phillips when Manchester City take on Burnley on Saturday afternoon.
Ashley Young will also profit from the spate of injuries as he looks likely to earn a recall to the squad. Stewart Downing is yet to return from his ankle injury but there might be recall for Joe Cole who hasn’t featured for England for over fourteen months.
Whilst a big fan of the mercurial Chelsea man, Capello is believed to be reluctant to select Cole as he has only just returned from a long injury lay-off but may find his hands tied with several wide players unavailable.
Up front Jermain Defoe is likely to be recalled after missing last month’s games through injury, although he hasn’t featured much for his club since, due mostly to a three-match suspension he incurred for a red card against former club Portsmouth.
Peter Crouch scored twice against Belarus last time out and could find himself starting alongside Wayne Rooney if Carlton Cole and Emile Heskey do not return from injury in time.
Those injuries could open the door for a certain Michael Owen, who has scored two goals in his last two starts for Manchester United, but the in-form Darren Bent might seem a more likely option with Gabriel Agbonlahor also likely to retain his place.
The injury worries don’t stop there as first choice full-backs Glen Johnson and Ashley Cole have also been out of action for their clubs in the last few weeks. Both may possibly return this weekend, with Cole the more likely.
Wes Brown hasn’t featured for the Three Lions in over a year but his return to the Manchester United side could be well-timed if Johnson is indeed absent.
Many managers, in particular Sir Alex Ferguson, have already been publicly critical of this friendly taking place in Qatar, five-hour flight away from the UK, so Capello may well find that more of his players than usual are withdrawn.
Nonetheless the Italian will be keeping his fingers crossed that no more of his key players fall foul of injuries this weekend otherwise they may well be more than one or two surprise names included in the squad come Sunday evening.
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